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Week of 14 October 2002

Latest Update : Sunday, 20 October 2002 09:15 -0400


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Monday, 14 October 2002

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9:21 - Thanks to everyone who's subscribed and re-subscribed recently. I'm in the midst of a changeover in how I record and track subscriptions, not to mention trying to migrate my contact lists and templates from Outlook to Mozilla Mail, so my apologies if I've not yet responded to you. I should be caught up later this week. I should also have some interesting material posted on the Subscribers' page sometime next week, namely the initial drafts of the first chapters of the third edition of PC Hardware in a Nutshell.

Note that these chapters are rough and may be missing pieces. They'll have information that can't be depended upon because it's subject to change as things become clearer, usually with an annotation something like "Check this during final pass". You may find anomalous dates, things like "when Intel introduced the XXX chipset in March, 2003..." In other words, I'm "writing ahead" and it may seem as strange to you when you read it as it does to me when I write it.

I'm making these early chapter drafts available to subscribers for selfish reasons. By doing so, I get a reasonable number of competent technical people looking at my material and pointing out mistakes, omissions, and so on. That helps make the final product a better book.

If you're interested in watching a book being built, check out the chapters as I post them over the coming months. I'll keep the list on the Subscribers' page updated as I post new and revised drafts. Again, this material is available only to subscribers, so if you're interested in looking at it, please subscribe. Visit this page for instructions on how to do so.

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Tuesday, 15 October 2002

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8:53 - More in the newspaper this morning about the Bali outrage, in which proportionately as many Australians were killed as were Americans at the World Trade Center. Make no mistake. This is just the latest in what will be a continuing series of outrages perpetrated by Islam against non-believers. The time to stop this is now. If that requires eradicating Islam, well that's a small price to pay.

As long as our government treats this problem as one involving only a small subset of believers in Islam, the outrages will continue, probably at an accelerated pace. The problem is not "Islamic terrorists" however one defines that. The problem is Islam itself, and it is time we recognize that and act accordingly. Islam is a religion of hatred, intolerance, and terror toward all of us that Islam regards as non-believers. Islam has been at war against the West for more than 1,000 years now, and it is an implacable enemy.

Fortunately, it is also a weak and incompetent enemy. As I've said before, Islam can inconvenience us, whereas we have the means to eradicate it. On the anniversary of September 11th, I suggested a fitting way to memorialize it. Nuke Mecca. I can think of no better way to put Islam on notice that we've had enough. They can kill us retail, but we can slaughter them wholesale. The time has come for us to demonstrate that.

Although a demonstration would be a good start, it is insufficient because it leaves Islam with the resources and means to continue attacking us. As I've said, the real answer is to put Islam back into the Stone Age. Remove from it the ability even to feed its people, let alone to make war on us. Destroy its cities, its factories, and its infrastructure. Kill its leaders and its scientists, and eradicate its military. Depopulate and occupy the Persian Gulf, and pump it dry, using those oil revenues to pay our costs and revitalize our economy. Unfortunately, none of that will happen. Our leaders are too weak and concerned with world opinion to do what needs to be done. And that means the attacks will continue.

I'm back to running Windows 2000 on the den system. There are three reasons for that. 

First, Linux is hinky on that system. It may be that the hardware is simply too old (a Pentium III/750 on an Intel SE440BX2-V motherboard, a Rage 128 video adapter, and other components of similar vintage). The hardware tests okay, but weird stuff happens. I change preferences in Mozilla and they don't "stick". I set up a rule in Evolution that sometimes works and sometimes doesn't, and so on. Roland Dobbins notes that he hasn't experienced similar strangeness with Evolution, and neither have I when I run it on the P4/2.0G system in my office. There's simply something about this hardware that Linux doesn't like. I've reinstalled from bare metal twice, and the oddities remain.

Second, Linux on this hardware is slow, slow, slow. Part of that may be that I did a kitchen-sink install, but I suspect even if I'd just chosen the Desktop configuration it wouldn't run much faster. The simple fact is that, on this hardware, Windows 2000 and Office 2000 are snappy, while Linux, OpenOffice.org, Evolution, et alia are pigs. Even Mozilla is sluggish under Linux on this box, taking perhaps five times as long to load as it does under Windows 2000. 

Much is made of Linux supposedly being a lot faster than Windows. I'll grant that's true if you're comparing CLI Linux against GUI Windows, but not if you're comparing apples to apples. A GUI takes some horsepower to run, and in my experience the Windows GUI is a lot faster than the Linux GUIs, at least Gnone and KDE. Granted, I've not tried to optimize Linux for perfornance, but then neither have I tried to optimize Windows. I think if you try running Windows 2000 and a recent Linux release on the same hardware, you'll also find that Linux is a lot slower than Windows.

Part of that is the applications, of course. OpenOffice.org is notoriously slow to load, and that's true even on a fast Pentium 4 with 512 MB of RAM running under Windows 2000. It's even more true under Linux on lesser hardware. On this P3/750, OOo takes a painfully long time to load. But I've worked enough with applications under both Windows and Linux on this box to say that Linux is definitely slower, very noticeably so, for me. In the end, it doesn't really matter much to me. I'll eventually just throw more hardware at the problem. 

Third, although I like OpenOffice.org a lot, and although I consider it a worthy replacement for Word 2000 for most people, it has certain flaws that make it much less desirable for me.  For example, I live in my word processor for much of the day. I use a template that O'Reilly & Associates provides. It creates a menu at the top of the document that allows me to apply the styles that O'Reilly requires, simply by clicking on menu items. That template/macro/menu system simply doesn't work in OOo. Why it doesn't is another question, but the fact is that it doesn't. Okay, that I could live with. I simply copy an old document that already has all the styles I need in it. I can then apply styles using the drop-down list of styles. It's clumsier than using the O'Reilly menus, but I could and in fact have lived with it.

Much worse is the fact that OOo, at least under Linux, has some font problems. Not the ugly fonts. Those got cured in RH 8.0. The font problems I'm talking about have to do with how OOo renders characters embedded in Word documents, or more to the point how it doesn't render them. For example, I was working on the Motherboards chapter yesterday. That chapter has numerous tables that use a closed bullet symbol to indicate the presence of a feature, and an open bullet to indicate its absence. Those symbols simply don't show up when I load the document with OOo Writer, at least under Linux. To the best of my recollection, they do show up in OOo under Windows. 

As I recall, Linux in general and some Linux apps in particular have problems rendering character sets which some consider Microsoft-proprietary, but which in fact are so commonly used that they should be considered standard. I don't like it any more than anyone else when Microsoft creates proprietary "standards" and then uses them as a competitive weapon against OSS or competing closed-source software, but come on. A character set? Why not just accept it as a done deal and display the damned symbols? Maybe I'm missing something here, but I don't think so.

Worse still is the fact that OOo Writer mangles complex Word 2000 documents. That's not me saying that, incidentally, but a representative of the OOo team. He tells me that Word 2000 is the worst version of Word for compatibility, and that internal formatting bizarrities in some very complex Word 2000 documents cause OOo to go into what amounts to an endless loop. Of course, he thinks that the problem is caused by Microsoft, and I'm sure he's right. But the fact remains that when I have a complex document that Word will handle properly and OOo Writer mangles, the choice of application to use to work on that document is pretty obvious.

14:08 - Thanks to everyone who has subscribed (or re-subscribed) recently. I've been remiss in processing these subscriptions in a timely manner, but it's not entirely my fault. In addition to being covered up with other stuff, I've been having software problems. One of those had to do with my inability to open an Excel worksheet where I keep passwords. That worksheet is itself password-protected, and OpenOffice.org wouldn't touch it. Unfortunately, neither would Excel. Each time I tried to open the file with Excel, OOo would fire up instead. When I tried doing an Open-With and specifying Excel as the application to use, Windows helpfully informed me that Excel wasn't installed, which it of course was.

When I attempted to do a Repair Installation on Office, I got a nasty little warning box which I posted here some time ago. I finally ended up un-installing and then re-installing Office. That fixed the Excel problem, but when I attempted to open the password-protected spreadsheet, I found it was corrupted. Arrrghhh. So I ended up having to go back to my tape backups and restore an old version. Once I did that, I had to go back to other records to update the older version to current. All of that took the better part of a day, which I'd rather have spent doing something productive.

But now at last I'm starting to get new subscriptions and renewals processed. If you haven't heard from me yet, don't worry. I won't lose you in the confusion. For now, I'm leaving the old username/password that expired 9/30/02 active, so you can use that to get to the subscribers' page if you haven't yet received the new username/password that expires 10/31/03. Not that it matters a lot, because there's nothing significant posted on the subscribers' page. That will change next week, as I begin posting new chapter manuscripts.

Barbara is off on a day-trip today with her parents, visiting a local winery. I'm doing both mom-visits, and taking care of the dogs. In among everything else, I'm also processing subscriptions, so if you haven't yet heard from me you should hear from me later today or tomorrow. I hope to have everything straight by then.

15:20 - I'm now caught up on all new subscriptions and renewals that I received on or before 10/13 (I think). I still have a batch received 10/14 or later that I'll get to as soon as I can. I have some other stuff I have to do today, so it may be tomorrow before I can get to them.

Once again, thanks to everyone who has subscribed or renewed. If you haven't subscribed yet and you want to, please visit this page.

 

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Wednesday, 16 October 2002

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9:33 - Thanks to everyone who has subscribed or renewed recently. I should be caught up on subscriptions and renewals by the end of today. If you haven't subscribed yet and would like to, please visit this page.

I'm working today on updating the Motherboards chapter, which is challenging. In the past few months, Intel has released a flurry of new chipsets and motherboards, with more to come in the next few months. Some, like the 845PE, are widely considered to be simple "refreshes" of existing chipsets. In one sense, that's true, but in another sense these are significant chipsets in themselves. "Merely" adding DDR333 support to the 845 is no small task, despite the fact that other chipsets have supported DDR33 for some time. Intel is extremely conservative about adding new feature support, not because they're stodgy, but because they insist that these new technologies work reliably. Accordingly, Intel goes through an extensive qualification phase to make sure that such features as DDR333 support are rock-solid before they introduce them. In that sense, these new chipsets are in fact a leap forward.

With DDR333 support, these new chipsets challenge RDRAM on a nearly level playing field. For now, RDRAM retains a slight lead in throughput, although it still lags with regard to latency. Overall, though, Intel DDR333 chipsets provide memory performance comparable to PC1066 RDRAM--a few percent better here, a few percent worse there, depending on which benchmark you use. The higher cost of RDRAM means that it now makes sense only for those very few applications where memory throughput is still the determining factor. Even that RDRAM stronghold will fall when Intel ships their dual-channel DDR chipsets next spring. When that happens, RDRAM will lose on all counts, and should fade away quickly.

9:58 - Jeez. I just opened Mozilla Mail and watched it download fifty or a hundred new messages. I knew immediately something strange was going on, because I'd last retrieved my mail only a few minutes prior. I get a lot of mail, but that's ridiculous.

As it turns out, someone with a virus must have just turned on his computer. Nearly all of that flurry of messages were automatic replies addressed to john.hogan at ttgnet.com, an account that doesn't exist. The majority were typical autoreply "you have a virus" messages. A few, however, were extremely abusive. As far as I'm concerned, all of these messages are spam. I don't bother to respond to virus-laden messages any more, because I don't have time to track down the real sender. But at least I don't flood innocent domain administrators' mailboxes with messages complaining about something they had nothing to do with.

The days when one could assume that the apparent sender of an email message was the true sender are long gone. In my opinion, setting up auto-response messages like these is about as irresponsible as running an open relay. I'm half-inclined to send nastygrams to the upstream providers of the companies that flooded me with these unsolicited messages. I had nothing to do with the original virus-laden messages. Why should I have to waste my time dealing with reflexive autoresponses?

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Thursday, 17 October 2002

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9:16 - In the Better-Late-Than-Never category, Mr. Sherlock Holmes has finally gained some official recognition for his contributions to forensic science. In a ceremony held near Holmes' lodgings in Baker Street, Dr. John Watson of the Royal Society of Chemistry presented Holmes with an honorary Fellowship in the Society, citing Holmes' trail breaking efforts in forensic science.

Although it is little remembered, the works of Holmes (and, later, those of R. Austin Freeman's Dr. John Evelyn Thorndyke) were used extensively during the early years of the 20th century by Scotland Yard and other British and foreign police organizations to train investigators. In effect, instructors told their students, "Study this book. It teaches you how to think about a case and shows how things should be done."

I feel a particular affinity for Holmes because we share a birthday. Mr. Holmes turned 100 years old on the day I was born, June 6th, 1953. At that point, although supposedly long-retired to bee-keeping on the Sussex Downs, he was actually still quite active behind the scenes, as many of Professor Moriarty's successors learned to their cost. Now, at age 149, Mr. Holmes seldom participates actively in investigations, although he still rouses himself occasionally in response to desperate pleas from the Home Office.

Despite the article's seemingly inevitable slam at Mr. Holmes as a "fictional character", I was pleased to see that Mr. Holmes has finally been honored.

Regarding Linux fonts, this just in:

Bob Thompson wrote: "As I recall, Linux in general and some Linux apps in particular have problems rendering character sets which some consider Microsoft-proprietary, but which in fact are so commonly used that they should be considered standard. I don't like it any more than anyone else when Microsoft creates proprietary "standards" and then uses them as a competitive weapon against OSS or competing closed-source software, but come on. A character set? Why not just accept it as a done deal and display the damned symbols? Maybe I'm missing something here, but I don't think so."

Back in October 2000, I wrote:

"After several hours of research and reading some very obscure documents on the Internet, I think I know how part of the above mess was created. There's a Standard called ISO 8859 that is in reality several standards. [Aside: that's the nice thing about Standards, there are so many to choose from!] The one we are concerned with is ISO 8859-1, the Western European Character Set. When it was in a late stage of development, Microsoft, Lotus, Digital Equipment Corp and Commodore (for the Amiga OS) adopted it. Subsequently, characters 0127 to 0159 were eliminated from ISO 8859-1.

I am not going to speculate on why this happened, but it seems certain that far from Microsoft adding these characters, they were part of a late draft. One story has it that the removal of the oe ligature was due to the French committee member being absent on the day the decision to remove it was taken. Does this mean that the Belgian and Swiss contingents sufficiently loathed the French to ignore their own needs? The removal of six of the most important typographic marks seems more than a little peculiar. Was the intent to hand over desktop publishing to the Mac, Windows, Amiga and DEC?"

Of course the "Windows" ANSI adopted by Microsoft, Lotus, Digital Equipment Corp and Commodore has become the de facto standard and there's certainly an argument for ISO 8859-1 being redefined. But of course that would damage the fragile egos of the Linuxen and that would never do. Continuing support for an antiquated/neglected standard is one of the defining features of True Linuxhood and like "persecuted" minorities everywhere, the Linuxen will never relinquish their adherence to the Only True Standard. For some reason this reminds me of Claudius' attempt to revise Latin ;-)

Cheers

Jonathan Sturm
www.sturmsoft.com
The world's most famous Pompous Git according to Google and ABC Radio National!

 

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Friday, 18 October 2002

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9:37 - Slow start this morning. I didn't wake up until 8:30, which is extraordinary for me. I awoke to very bad news. The nursing home called Barbara to say that the pervert will be returning. This despite the fact that they told me he had been permanently transferred. Apparently, they have no choice. The law compels them to take him back, although I'm not sure why. This man attacked one aide twice in one day, the second time with scissors. He is violent, and he belongs in a secure lock-down facility, not wandering freely in a home for helpless elderly people. They say they're going to put him in a room at the far end of the hall, but he is mobile, so that's not going to matter.

I am very upset. I just called the nursing home to ask what specific measures they intend to implement to ensure absolutely that this man does not harass let alone assault my mother, as he has done in the past. The woman I need to speak to was in a meeting, so I'll try again shortly. I am very upset.

I may need to check the legal status of a nursing home resident. I suspect that my mother's room is legally her home, and that she is entitled by law to keep weapons for self-defense, just as is someone who lives in an apartment building. If so, I will look into getting her a can of Mace or pepper-spray to keep on a chain around her neck. I also intend to call the police to find out about 911, to ensure that they will respond directly to her room if she needs to call them.

The nursing home is legally obligated to protect my mother, and I intend to find out just exactly how they plan to do that.

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Saturday, 19 October 2002

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9:26 - The situation at the nursing home is resolved, at least for now. The pervert won't be returning. The lady from the nursing home called me late yesterday afternoon to say that she wished she hadn't told us what had happened that morning, because if she'd just waited a few hours she wouldn't have had to upset us.

It's interesting how self-perceptions differ from those of other people. I've always thought of myself as shy, gentle, unassertive, and non-confrontational. Kind of a soft, fluffy, baby bunny. My wife and friends, on the other hand, tell me that I'm more like an attack-trained Rottweiler. I'm afraid I was in Rottweiler mode yesterday.

It really enraged me when the lady from the nursing home told me that the pervert had been examined by a psychologist, who determined that the pervert was "back to baseline" (whatever that means) and was now non-violent and no threat to my mother. He said this of a man who has advanced Alzheimer's and on the day he was removed from the nursing home had twice attacked one staff member, once with scissors. So I told the lady that I would take that as the psychologist's personal guarantee that this man would not harm my mother and that I assumed that if the man did in fact hurt my mother the psychologist would understand and expect me to hurt him badly in return. That gave her pause.

Interspersed among several conversations with her, I also called the police. I explained the situation to them and asked how they treated 911 calls that originated from nursing homes. Obviously, there's the possibility that they'd discount such calls given the likelihood that many of them might be placed by people with little or no remaining brain. The police lady said that they treated such calls seriously, but flagged ones that came from people proven to be unreliable. It came as no surprise to me that there are some Alzheimer's patients who call 911 literally every day. She said that on the first call an officer would respond and would make an evaluation of the reliability of the caller. If the officer judged the caller to be unimpaired or only minimally impaired mentally, he would file a report so saying and future calls from that person would be treated seriously.

I also asked her about the legal status of my mother in terms of her room at the nursing home being her legal residence. She confirmed that that was in fact the case, and that my mother had the legal right to have defensive weapons on the premises. I then called the lady at the nursing home back and reported the results of my conversation with the police. I told her that I planned to get my mother a necklace with a can of Mace or pepper spray on it, so that she could defend herself from the pervert if necessary. She said they couldn't allow that, and I asked her on what basis they could forbid it. "Let me get this straight," I said, "You tell me that you cannot guarantee my mother's safety from a man who has already repeatedly assaulted her, but at the same time you tell me that you will forbid her from having a non-lethal weapon with which to protect herself from him? Is that your position?" She said she'd have to take it up with her superiors, and I told her that I'd appreciate that.

I also suggested that they install one of their escape sensors in my mother's doorway. Their patients who are a threat to make a break for it all have wrist or ankle bands that set off an alarm if they try to pass portals that have detectors. When that alarm goes off, all staff drop what they're doing and go off in pursuit of the would-be escapee. Such a detector on my mother's doorway would go far toward protecting her from the pervert, and the lady said she'd check with their facilities guy about getting one installed. At all times during our conversation, I made it clear that I didn't blame the nursing home staff and that I realize they were between the proverbial rock and hard place.

But also having made it clear that I wasn't taking this situation lying down, I sat back and awaited developments. Just before dinnertime, the lady from the nursing home called back to say that it had all been a mistake and that in fact the pervert was being transferred to some other facility. So it appears that there are times when it is better to be an attack-trained Rottweiler than a fluffy baby bunny.

 

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Sunday, 20 October 2002

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9:15 - It's been a hectic last few days. Things are apparently resolved at the nursing home, although we thought that was true the last time they moved the guy. This time, we're hoping he really isn't going to be back. My mother is doing quite well. When we told her the guy was going to return, she even seemed to take that news well, although she was obviously relieved when that turned out not to be the case.

Among other things, Barbara and I toured another nursing home Friday. Now at least we know the questions to ask, although I'm very concerned that if we move my mother to a new nursing home we'll merely be exchanging one set of problems for another. The Brian Center (where she currently lives) is actually a very nice place, despite the problems we've had. The staff, with only a couple of exceptions, are very good.

And that's the problem, because the staff makes or breaks a nursing home, and the only real way to know what the staff is like is to have someone living there. Even if the place we visited currently has a perfect staff, that could change five minutes after we moved my mother there. If it were my decision, I'd be inclined to leave my mother where she is, but she is convinced that a move might improve things for her. She may be right, but even if she's wrong we have to respect her wishes.

So we put in an application for her, and now we wait. The new place currently has no beds available and several people on the waiting list. It could be anything from several weeks to several months before a position opens there. I guess we'll just wait and see what happens.

I need to get to work on the laundry and then go over to visit my mother. More later perhaps, but probably tomorrow.

 

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