Monday, 7 October 2002
10:30 - A bit of a late start this morning. In the wee small hours, Pournelle sent me his new column for a sanity check, and I've been doing a pass through that.
Gary Berg posted this over on the messageboard:
Thanks for pointing that out. I had been using USB keyboard and mouse on my main system and PS/2 models on the others. But of course it was easy enough to disconnect my primary USB keyboard from my main system, reconnect it to the KVM switch using the PS/2 plug, and then connect the PS/2 keyboard cable from the KVM to my main system.
So now I have one monitor and one keyboard shared among the three systems connected to the KVM, with a dedicated optical mouse on my main system and a shared PS/2 IntelliMouse for the other two.
There's yet another article posted about getting refunds for Windows, this one on NewsForge. I have never understood people who claim they are entitled to a refund for Windows. Imagine buying a Ford Explorer. You don't like Goodyear tires, so you decide to install Michelin tires that you've gotten yourself. So you insist that the Ford dealer buy back the Goodyear tires from you. You wouldn't get very far, would you? Most people would agree that you were being unreasonable. The Goodyear tires are part of the product, and if you don't want them you should buy something other than a Ford Explorer.
The situation with PCs is exactly analogous. Dell and other PC makers have chosen to make Microsoft tires a part of their products. If you don't want Microsoft tires, don't buy the Dell. Some people object to this, saying that there's no way to buy a computer without Microsoft tires, and anyway they should be able to buy a Dell with any brand tires they want. That's wrong on two counts. First, it's easy enough to buy a PC without Microsoft tires (or any other Microsoft product) bundled. There are any number of PC vendors who will be happy to sell you a PC without any software whatsoever. Second, it's Dell's right to configure their systems any way they want to. If you like the package, you buy it. If you don't, you buy something else. Nothing gives you the right to insist that Dell configure a system the way you want it.
The answer is simple. If you don't want bundled Microsoft software with the next PC you buy, buy that PC from a vendor that doesn't bundle Microsoft software. Better still, build your own PC. You end up with a much better system, and you can buy only the software you want to buy for it.
15:26 - I can't imagine what Brian and Marcia Bilbrey must be thinking and feeling right now. The latest sniper shooting in the Washington DC area happened literally two long blocks away from their home. Barbara and I passed the school where the shooting occurred on our way to visit Brian and Marcia over Labor Day.
Snipers, even the legitimate military sort, have always been hated, because they kill without warning. A high velocity rifle bullet travels much faster than sound, which means the bullet arrives before the sound of the shot. There's literally no warning. One instant the victim is standing there, and the next he's dead, without hearing the shot that killed him. Other than staying under cover at all times, there's no way to protect yourself. It's impossible to fight back, because the fight is over before the victim knows there's a fight.
That's probably why snipers are seldom captured alive. A cornered sniper might just as well go down shooting, because he knows he'll be shot out of hand if he allows himself to be captured. I just hope that happens when the police finally corner this sniper.
If indeed the police do corner him. The problem with catching snipers is that they operate from long distances. In the past, military snipers usually used a more-or-less standard bolt-action hunting rifle or a modified and accurized service rifle, typically firing the standard military caliber (e.g. 7.92mm, 30-06, 7.62mm NATO) or something close to it. With those weapons, a sniper often made kills at more than 1,000 yards, and seldom shot at less than 500 yards because of the danger to himself. Nowadays, some military snipers use special .50 rounds that are accurate and deadly out to more than a mile away.
This guy is apparently using a .223, which is the civilian version of the 5.56mm NATO round. That round fires a very light bullet at high velocity, and has nowhere near the effective range of the .30 rounds, let alone the .50 rounds. An excellent marksman might be reasonably sure of a hit at 500 yards, although 300 yards would be a more likely maximum range for an average rifleman of reasonable skill. Even assuming the shorter range, the shooter could be anywhere within a circle 600 yards in diameter, which translates into more than a tenth of a square mile. Actually, because we know he's not shooting at short range, the relevant area is bounded by two circles at, say, 100 yards and 300 yards from the victim. That's a lot of territory, even if there are police on the spot when it happens.
Obviously, the police aren't on the spot immediately, which means the shooter has the opportunity to move away before the police arrive. Even assuming the police succeed in blanketing the area within five minutes of the shot, that means the shooter could be anywhere within several square miles. Even if the shooter were foolish enough to parade around carrying his rifle in plain sight, the police might not see him. If he conceals it, there's no hope of his being spotted after the fact.
So the only way this guy is going to be caught is if someone else happens to notice him and can identify him or his vehicle. I hope that happens, but I'm not optimistic.
Tuesday, 8 October 2002
8:57 - Pournelle has convinced me that what he calls the "PBS model" is the best way to pay for this place. Accordingly, I'll be running a "fundraiser" around here once or twice a year. If it's been a while since you last renewed your subscription, or if you've never subscribed at all, now would be a good time.
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I got an email yesterday from someone who wanted to know how I was able to access my Windows NT server shares from my Red Hat Linux 8.0 system. It's not difficult to do, but neither is it intuitively obvious. The following describes the process step-by-step, and assumes that you have the same username/password on the Linux box and the Windows NT box:
Note that this procedure now works for both Windows NT 4 and Windows 2000 shares. On earlier versions, it worked for NT4 shares, but not for Windows 2000 shares. Also note that the share name can be an administrative share rather than a named share. For example, I have a share defined for messier (my main Windows 2000 box) using the default c$ admin share. The line in fstab that enables that share is:
Obviously, defining administrative shares works only if your username/password has admin privileges on NT/2000.
12:04 - My mother goes to the doctor again today. She'll find out whether she has to keep wearing the leg braces. If not, she'll be able to bend her legs, which will mean a lot more mobility for her. Not in the usual sense of mobility--they'll still have to use the hoist (which looks like an engine block puller) to lift her in and out of her bed or her chair--but she will at least be able to spend time in a Jerry-chair, which is kind of like a padded reclining wheelchair. If that is approved, she'll be able to visit other residents instead of being restricted to her room all the time. Barbara is playing golf with her dad today, and the doctors' office is on the way home from her parents, so she's going to meet my mother at the doctors' office. Once again, they'll have to transfer my mother back and forth via ambulance. If it turns out that she can do without the leg braces and be allowed to bend her knees, she'll be able to go on doctor visits and excursions in the nursing home van. That would be nice.
The Register has an interesting article about the future of AMD. I think it's overly optimistic about AMD's prospects. As they say, AMD bet the company on Hammer, but I'm less optimistic about AMD's ability to execute. I'm also less optimistic than they about economic prospects. We are in the eighth consecutive recessional quarter for the tech industry, and some would argue that it's actually ten or more quarters. This isn't a recession, it's a depression. And I see no end to it any time soon. I'm afraid that we may be looking at a sea change in the IT sector. Others are optimistic that things will return to "normal", but I think we're in the early stages of a "new normal".
On that basis, I think AMD is toast. I don't doubt that they will ship Hammer, albeit very late, but I don't think sales will justify the development costs. Hammer will garner some sales, but those few new systems that corporations and individuals will be buying will likely be overwhelmingly Intel-based. The simple fact is that low ASPs (Average Selling Prices) are now a fact of life, and that isn't going to change any time soon. Intel has the reserves to carry them through the transition to permanent low-margin CPU sales. AMD does not. Looking five years down the road through my (admittedly cloudy) crystal ball tells me that Intel will be a very different company by then, but it will still exist and still manufacture processors. AMD, on the other hand, may well not be here in five years. On that basis, I think I'm going to start recommending Intel-based systems exclusively, except perhaps for the problematic SMP segment. Intel processors and motherboards are cheap, readily available, and extremely reliable. I don't see any reason to recommend anything else.
As I was writing the instructions for accessing Windows shares from a Linux box, it again occurred to me that I really need to bring up a Linux server. This one will begin as a test-bed system--I need to learn server-side Linux--but will eventually become our main production file server. I think I'll pull my current den system and convert it. That box has a Pentium III/750, 256 MB of RAM, and a 7,200 RPM hard drive. That's more than enough to make a good Linux file server, and I can replace it with a Pentium 4 system for the den.
The new server will run Red Hat 8.0, and I'll take Roland Dobbins' earlier advice and do a kitchen-sink install on it rather than choosing the sub-set that Red Hat defines as a "server installation".
Wednesday, 9 October 2002
9:42 - Yesterday was The Day from Hell. Barbara has some (by no means all) of the details over on her page. This morning, I feel like I've been run over by a truck.
My mother went to the doctor yesterday to have her legs x-rayed. The good news is that her leg braces can come off, which means that she'll have a bit more mobility. She'll be able to sit in a Jerry-chair and be rolled around to visit other residents, sit outside, etc. The bad news is that the doctor said she couldn't put any weight on the legs and may never be able to. That means, as we suspected, that she'll never be able to come home. I expect that news would crush my mother, but she actually took it very well. She's pleased that she no longer has to wear the leg braces, and is apparently taking the bad news in stride. When I called her this morning, she was actually cheerful.
The other bad news is that the ambulance dropped her. As they were riding from the nursing home to the doctors' office, the gurney she was on collapsed. The ambulance staff was dumbfounded. Here she is, a couple or three feet from the floor and all of sudden, bang, she's on the floor. The ambulance staff said they'd never seen that happen, or heard of it happening. My mom was shaken up, of course, but she appears to be uninjured. She wears a neck brace, because her arthritis has damaged some of her cervical vertebrae to the extent that she can no longer hold her head erect. If her head were to come forward, it could pinch the spinal column and paralyze her completely. Fortunately, she had her neck brace on at the time the accident occurred. The doctor did x-rays of her neck. His conclusion was that it was in such bad shape that he couldn't tell if any additional damage had been done.
Worse news. The pervert who has been stalking my mom crossed a line last night. My brother was over from Raleigh visiting my mother. He called the house to say that the pervert had assaulted one of the aides, twisting her arm and spraining her wrist. So much for him being harmless. But it gets worse. Apparently, they had him secured in his wheelchair by a belt. He somehow got a pair of scissors, cut himself loose, and attacked that same aide with the scissors. My brother said that after they subdued him, they rolled in a gurney, rolled him out, and took him somewhere unknown to my brother, but off-site.
This morning, I called the nursing home to find out what they are doing to ensure my mother's safety. This guy is enough of a threat to the staff and other residents that I can't believe he hasn't already been sent to a special facility for dangerous people. But for my mother, it's even worse because he's fixated on her. He stalks her.
I was shocked to learn that although the pervert had been sent to the hospital last night, he was back again this morning. I talked to one of the administrators and conveyed my concern for my mother's safety. She said that she was heading into a staff meeting and would bring this up. She's promised to call me after the meeting to let me know what they're going to do to protect my mother.
Thanks to everyone who's subscribed (and resubscribed). If you haven't yet subscribed now would be a good time. My apologies for being slow in responding personally to email from subscribers, but things have been extremely hectic around here, not just today but for the past several days. I'm trying to get caught up on my backlog, but until things calm down I haven't much time to work on anything but the highest priority items, which right now are purely personal. As Pournelle says, I'm dancing as fast as I can.
Thursday, 10 October 2002
9:52 - Thanks to those of you who've subscribed during the last several days. I'm batching up all those messages so that I can deal with all of them at once, so my apologies for not replying personally as yet. If you haven't subscribed, please do so.
Great news! The lady from the nursing home called me back yesterday afternoon to say that they were going to transfer the pervert to another institution as soon as possible. She couldn't say how long that would be, but assured me that he would be strictly controlled until that happened. At the time I spoke to her, they were debating which drug to use on him as a "chemical restraint."
I immediately called my mother to give her the good news and to tell her she needn't worry any more about him. We had an early dinner so that Barbara could meet her volunteers at the library at 6:00 p.m. to set up for the booksale, which starts tomorrow. Just after she left, I drove over to visit mom, who continues to be in very high spirits, pretty much like her old self. When I arrived, they told me that the pervert had already been moved, and was gone forever. Cheers!
As I was leaving the nursing home, I had a bad moment. I noticed a bright orange warning light, and it took me a moment to realize that it was in the shape of a gasoline pump. Given the way things have been going, before I noticed the shape I figured it was probably warning me that, "Your engine is about to self-destruct in 10 seconds, 9, 8 ..."
This truck turned 10 years old about six weeks ago, and still has only 40,000 or so miles on it. I had never once seen that warning light, simply because I'd never allowed the fuel supply to get that low. I think the most it's ever taken to fill the tank has been 18 gallons, and it's a 22.5 gallon tank. I never even knew I had a warning indicator.
Which reminds me of a girl I knew in college whose parents had given her an old car to drive around in. One day, she called to say she was stranded and asked if I and a couple of my friends could come get her. We walked out to the parking lot, which was called "Siberia" less for reasons of low temperatures than physical remoteness, and drove off to pick her up. When we arrived, there was already a tow truck there. The guy had the hood open and was looking at her engine, scratching his head.
To make a long story short, it turned out that she'd welded the pistons to the engine block by running the engine without oil. When one of the guys asked her if the car didn't have an oil pressure/level warning light, she said, "You mean that little red light by the speedometer?" "Yes," we said, "that's probably the one we mean." We told her that she should have pulled over as soon as the light came on, or at the very least driven gently to the nearest service station. "Oh," she said, "Daddy never told me that. I just figured it would go out eventually." And so it did.
One Red Hat Linux 8.0 system isn't enough. I need two. Actually, I need three. One server and two desktop systems, although the server can also function as the second desktop for now.
I found what at first appeared to be an interesting article over on ExtremeTech. It's called Build It: Home Linux Server, and at first I thought I might be able to glean a few useful ideas from it. Alas, that's not the case. The entire article can be summarized by one sentence fragment from their conclusion: "... our recommendation for most users is not to build a tricked-out, well-endowed file/app server, but rather, repurpose one of your older machines to take over the role of home server..." Well, duh. They could have saved themselves and their readers a lot of time by just putting that one sentence conclusion on the front page.
As to their "bill of materials" for a purpose-built server, it's simply bizarre. Although they talk about the importance of rock-solid stability in a server, they then choose a motherboard from a manufacturer, Abit, which is, to be polite, not best known for the stability of their boards. Gamers choose Abit boards for their overclocking options and performance. Server administrators choose brands known for their stability, such as Intel.
To compound matters, they proceed to recommend a Pentium 4/2.4G, as though a small home server needs anything like that level of performance (not to mention the $225 price tag). Believe it or not, for this dedicated server, they specify a GeForce 4MX 420, "because it offers more than enough 2D performance for a great price". Jesus. You can get "more than enough 2D performance" with embedded video for a hell of a lot less than the $70 they quote. Hell, you can get a complete Intel motherboard with embedded graphics for perhaps $40 more than that.
The upshot is that they configure a home Linux server that costs (according to them) $1,139. And this "well-endowed" dedicated server is missing a tape drive. Yeah, that's just what I want in a server. A 120 GB hard drive with only a CD burner to back it up. Jesus. About the only thing they got right in their configuration was the case, an Antec SX1040 with a 400W power supply.
I am going to take at least part of their advice, though. I'm going to build a dedicated home Linux server on a recycled machine. That happens to be the one that's now my temporary den system. Its specifications are as follows:
Red Hat Linux 8.0 appears to support all those components, and my home Linux server ought to be better than their home Linux server.
Eventually, after I've finished playing with it and have a bit more confidence in using Linux in production systems, I'll convert this box to my main server, perhaps with the addition of more disk space, RAID, etc. At that point, I'll shut down my NT 4 Server box and migrate to Linux entirely as far as servers.
The more I think about this SOB terrorizing the Washington, DC area, the more I wonder if I and everyone else isn't making a wrong assumption. We know that the bullets have been .223 (which doesn't really tell us the cartridge the rifle is using, because numerous different cartridges use .223 bullets.) But the more I think about it, the more I wonder if this guy is using a rifle at all. He may instead be using a pistol, something like the Thompson-Centre, which is a single-shot pistol with interchangeable barrels.
Silhouette shooters (Silhouette shooting consists of hitting and knocking down metal targets, which are small at close range and larger at longer range) can knock down targets with pistols at huge ranges, out to several hundred yards. Hitting a person-size target with a .223 rifle at 150 yards is trivially easy. A good rifle will group at about 1.5" at that distance; an excellent one at perhaps 1"; and a superb one at half an inch. With a decent scope, hitting a person at that range is not much harder than hitting the proverbial side of a barn.
So why would this guy be shooting from such short distance, when every yard nearer the target puts him at greater risk for being seen and caught? If it were me, I'd choose a range of at least 300 yards, and more would be better. But only if I were using a rifle. Hitting a person from 150 yards with a pistol is non-trivial, and I wonder if that's what this guy is doing.
The single-shot .223 pistol would explain the fact that he's shooting only once. The empty brass found about 150 yards from the last victim might easily be explained as a red herring. If I were doing this, I might drop an empty cartridge that I'd picked up at a shooting range, just to give the forensics folks something to waste their time on.
If this guy is using a pistol, it might explain the lack of sightings. Once he fires, he can simply put the pistol into a brief case or backpack, and walk away calmly. No one would take any notice of him, because he's carrying nothing that could contain a rifle.
Friday, 11 October 2002
10:45 - Very late start this morning. I slept in until almost 9:00. I've had some sort of bug the last couple of days. I'm feeling a bit better this morning, although still a little rocky. At least I don't feel like I've been run over by a truck.
I don't think I mentioned doing it, but I stripped down my den system a couple of days ago and installed Red Hat Linux 8.0 on it. I did a kitchen-sink install, just as I did on the main Linux box in my office, but the den system is behaving strangely.
For example, I set Mozilla to use my links page as default. That worked fine for a while, but then it stopped working. When I started Mozilla, I'd get a blank page. I checked in Preferences, and Mozilla was indeed set to start with my links page. So I reset it to "use current page" (which was my links page), and shut down Mozilla. It came up still showing a blank page at startup. So I rebooted the system. When I started Mozilla, it again came up with a blank page. At that point, I decided just to live with it. I have my links page defined as "Home", so it's just a matter of clicking the mouse one more time to get there anyway. That went on for a while, but at some point Mozilla again started coming up with my links page as default, which it's been doing ever since. Or it was until this morning. When I fired up Mozilla first thing this morning, it came up with a blank start page. I hadn't made any change at all from the last thing last night, when it was working properly, until the first thing this morning, when it was again screwed up.
Another example. Evolution is haunted. Sometimes it prompts for my POP password and other times it doesn't. I've tried every combination I can think of. When I check mail and the prompt pops up, I enter my password and mark the box to save the password. Five minutes later, I again click Send/Receive, and it again prompts for my password. An hour later, I click Send/Receive, and it retrieves my mail without prompting for the password. I close Evo and reopen it an hour later. When I click Send/Receive, it grabs my mail without prompting for the password. Ten minutes later, I click Send/Receive, and it demands the password. There's absolutely no rhyme or reason for when it prompts for the password and when it doesn't. It sometimes does and sometimes doesn't if Evo has remained open, if it's been five minutes or two hours since the last check, if I've closed and reopened Evo or if I haven't. As nearly as I can tell, it's purely random. This is driving me insane.
Actually, I find that I prefer Mozilla Mail to Evolution's mail client anyway. Evo simply has too few options. As a mail client, Mozilla is inferior to Outlook, but considerably superior to Evolution. I think I may just use Mozilla for mail and Evolution for calendar/to-do. It's unfortunate that Mozilla doesn't have a usable Calendar function, although they do have one in Alpha. Once Mozilla supports calendar/to-do, I'll probably drop Evolution entirely, unless they come out with a 2.0 version that's a heck of lot closer to Outlook in functionality.
All of these problems are happening only on my den system. The other Linux box in my office, which was installed identically, has no such problems. I'm about to conclude that the den box is haunted.
I'd best get to work on the first draft of the third edition of PC Hardware in a Nutshell.
Saturday, 12 October 2002
9:15 - Jimmy Carter wins the Nobel Peace Prize? Give me a break. If it weren't for Mr. Carter, Iran would still be a strong US ally, led by the Shah's successor. Iran and Iraq would not have gone to war, and the US would not have found it necessary to support Iraq against the Iranian theocracy. Few people would know exactly where Iraq could be found on a map, and almost no one would have heard of Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden. The World Trade Center towers would still be standing. Mr. Carter by his incompetence lit the fuse that led to our current troubles. And for this he is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?
Barbara suspects the DC shootings are organized acts of terror, and she may be right. My own belief originally was that the shootings were analogous to the (still unsolved) Tylenol poisonings. Someone wanted someone dead, but if he simply murdered his target would have been the prime suspect. So he decides to kill his victim, but to kill a lot of other people too, hoping that the real victim will be mistaken for just another victim of random shootings. If I were the police, I'd be looking at these victims individually, rather than assuming that all were simply victims of random murders. For each of them, decide who had reason to want the victim dead, and then investigate the movements and alibis of the people who might have motive to kill them.
By now, though, the argument against my theory is that these killings now have too many victims and have gone on too long. If I were right, the murderer might kill two or three victims for "window dressing", followed by his real intended victim, followed by two or three more for window dressing. The number of victims now stands at ten, which is surely excessive even from the killer's viewpoint. Each additional victim increases the killer's chance of being caught, so if he's merely killing random people to camouflage the identity of his real intended victim, why continue so long and with so many victims?
Nor does this guy fit the pattern for typical serial killers. They tend to kill the same sort of victim repeatedly--college-age white women, adolescent black boys, or whatever. Most serial killers are not equal-opportunity murderers. They tend to stick pretty closely to victims of one age, sex, race, and socio-economic group. This guy is killing unselectively--rich/poor, black/white, young/old, male/female. He's not a serial killer in the ordinary sense that we use that word, so the only alternatives I see remaining are that he's either insane-which "ordinary" serial killers are not--or that he's killing merely to create panic.
It's possible, of course, that a deranged person with no political motivations may have decided to kill people randomly so that he can sit back and enjoy the panic. But Barbara's speculation may be the more likely explanation. This killer may in fact be teams of Islamic assassins, murdering for their deranged political beliefs. If that's the case, we can expect the killings to continue, and in fact to become more widespread. If that does turn out to be the case, I'd hate to be a young man of Middle-Eastern appearance in the US.
9:21 - I'm going to take a bit of down-time today. I spent all day yesterday working on updating the book. Today, I'll do the normal Sunday household chores and visit my mother, but other than that I plan to take some time off.
I may play around a bit with my den system. I've been running Red Hat Linux 8.0 on it for several days now, and I'm generally satisfied. I did change from using Evolution for email to using Mozilla Mail, partly because the random demands for my password were driving me nuts, but primarily because I can't stand Evolution as a mail client. It looks like Outlook, true enough, but is much less flexible. It's also flaky.
For example, my mail server has Spam Assassin installed. One of the things it does is add a header called X-Spam-Level: That header contains a series of asterisks, the number of which varies according to how likely Spam Assassin thinks it is that the message is spam. A message with few spam-like characteristics might have only one or two asterisks. A full-blown spam message might have 10 or 15 asterisks. I create a filter named Spam that tests for the number of asterisks as the condition. If the X-Spam-Level: header "contains" five asterisks, I delete the message. (Obviously, a message with six or more asterisks also "contains" five asterisks).
Outlook works fine with that filter, as does Mozilla Mail. But Evolution sometimes works properly and sometimes doesn't. As far as I know, it's never filtered a message with fewer than five asterisks to the trash folder, but it frequently leaves messages with five or more asterisks in the in-box. That would be a minor glitch if it were the only problem, but it's just indicative of the hinkiness of Evolution.
I know a lot of people who use Evolution as their main mail client, but as far as I'm concerned it's not ready for prime time. It needs a lot more work, both in terms of added features and in terms of general stability and bugginess. I'd love to have a mail client that also incorporated PIM features, but for now Evolution isn't it. Fortunately, Mozilla Mail is a solid mail client, and I'll continue to use it on Linux. I just wish the Mozilla Calendar was complete. It's still in alpha, and I hesitate to use an alpha application for doing my real work.
All of my complaints about Linux and it's application are relatively minor at this point, though. Having my den system running Linux forces me to live in Linux for at least part of the day, and that's a Good Thing.
Oh, well, I'm off to get a shower, get the laundry in progress, get my weekly full tape backup running, and visit my mother.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.