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Week of 18 November 2002

Latest Update : Sunday, 24 November 2002 08:40 -0500

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Monday, 18 November 2002

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8:45 - We'll be off tonight to see the Leonids meteor storm. This is the last chance anyone now alive will have to see a Leonids storm, and fortunately the weather forecast appears to be favorable. There are two peaks, one spanning a half hour or so on either side of 11:04 p.m. EST tonight and the other spanning a half hour or so either side 5:46 a.m. The first peak will be best for those in the Eastern US and farther east into Europe. The second will be best for those in the Eastern US and farther west. We'll try to catch both, although I'm not sure yet where we'll watch them from. Possibly our back yard, possibly Bullington, possibly one of each.

It's time to build some new mainstream reference systems. I'm choosing components now, and have some of the parts on the way in. I'm choosing only the best for these systems, as they'll be running for a long time to come.

  AMD Intel #1 Intel #2
Name Amelia Emerson Ramses
Case PC Power & Cooling Tower ??? ???
Power Supply ??? ??? ???
Motherboard ASUS A7N8X Intel D845PEBT2 Intel D845GEBV2
Chipset nVIDIA nForce2 Intel 845PE Intel 845GE
Processor AMD Athlon XP 2600+ Intel Pentium 4/2.8 ???
CPU Cooler Dynatron ??? bundled bundled
Memory 512 MB PC3300 (dual channel) 512 MB PC2700 512 MB PC2700
Video embedded ATI RADEON ??? embedded
Hard disk Seagate ST3120023AS Seagate ST3120023AS Seagate ST3120023A
Optical disc Plextor 48/24/48U Plextor 48/24/48A Plextor 20/10/40-12A
  ??? ??? ???
  ??? ??? ???
  ??? ??? ???
  ??? ??? ???
  ??? ??? ???

The systems are named for the lead characters in Elizabeth Peters' delightful Amelia Peabody Emerson series of mysteries, which are set around the turn of the 20th century in Egypt. Amelia will probably be my new main office system, Emerson my new den system, and Ramses Barbara's new main office system. More details once I settle on the configurations and begin building the systems.

I'm running a "which OS do you use" poll over on the messageboard. If you haven't voted yet, please do so. Voting requires that you be registered on the messageboard, but that takes only a minute to do if you haven't done it already. I'll leave the poll open for a week or two to see how many responses we can gather.



Tuesday, 19 November 2002

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7:54 - Someone emailed me the following quiz, which apparently appeared recently in Fred Langa's newsletter and is supposedly the world's easiest quiz, requiring only four correct answers to pass:

  1. How long did the Hundred Years War last?
  2. Which country makes Panama hats?
  3. From which animal do we get catgut?
  4. In which month do Russians celebrate the October Revolution?
  5. What is a camel's hair brush made of?
  6. The Canary Islands in the Pacific are named after what animal?
  7. What was King George VI's first name?
  8. What color is a purple finch?
  9. Where are Chinese gooseberries from?

The answers appear below.

We changed our plans for viewing the Leonid meteor storm. Clouds were forecast for Bullington, while Winston-Salem was to be relatively free of clouds, albeit hazy. About 10:00 p.m. we headed over to a soccer field near our home and spread out our tarps, sleeping bags, pillows, and blankets. It was actually quite comfortable, but alas the Leonids were a no-show. We kind of feared that might happen, given that we were on the extreme western edge of the possible area in which the 11:04 p.m. Leonid peak would be visible. I did see exactly one meteor, but basically it was a bust. We finally packed up at about 11:30 p.m. and headed home, which fortunately was only a five minute trip.

Barbara set the alarm for 0445, and we headed back over to the soccer field. This time, I was colder. I couldn't get my lighter to work, so I wasn't even able to smoke my pipe. But we did see some meteors this time. Luna was much lower in the sky and there were no clouds. Transparency was pretty bad, so between that, the light pollution, and Luna, we weren't able to see anything much dimmer than magnitude 3.0 to 3.5 at zenith (and much worse than that lower down). The meteors came in in fits and starts, with several very bright ones. The brightest was probably about magnitude -4 to -5, with a couple of dozen in the negative magnitudes. Overall, we probably saw 150 to 200 meteors from 0500 to 0615, although I didn't count. Twice I saw three meteors simultaneously, and several times two were visible. At 0615 we packed up and headed home.

Relative to last year, this was disappointing, but everything is relative. As Barbara said on the way home, this year was nothing like last year, but if she hadn't seen last year's show she'd have been very impressed with this year's. Overall, it was worth losing a bit of sleep for. This was the last of the Leonid storms, and no one now alive will ever see another like it.

And the answers:

  1. How long did the Hundred Years War last? *116 years 
  2. Which country makes Panama hats? *Ecuador
  3. From which animal do we get cat gut? *Sheep and Horses
  4. In which month do Russians celebrate the October Revolution? *November
  5. What is a camel's hair brush made of? *Squirrel fur
  6. The Canary Islands in the Pacific are named after what animal? *Dogs
  7. What was King George VI's first name? *Albert
  8. What color is a purple finch? *Crimson
  9. Where are Chinese gooseberries from? *New Zealand

I'm going to take credit for getting eight right. 

My answer for #1 was 115 years, but that I think that's close enough to count. Actually, a completely different answer such as "40 years" might just as well be right, since the war was an on-again/off-again thing. It lasted 115 years (okay, 116 years) from start to finish, but there wasn't actually a war going on the whole time. Similarly, for #3 my answer was sheep, which I think is sufficient. I knew the answer to #8 only because Barbara keeps a bird feeder and points out the birds by name to me. I remember thinking that when she pointed out purple finches they were in fact more red than purple. To me, all birds are sparrows anyway. Purple finches and cardinals are red sparrows, blue jays and bluebirds are blue sparrows, and so on.

The rest I knew because I am cursed with a good memory for trivia. The only one I had no idea about was #9. I guessed France, just to be different. Went down in flames on that one, didn't I?



Wednesday, 20 November 2002

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8:46 - I see Amazon is now selling the Segway Human Transporter. Well, not selling it, really. Taking orders for it, I should say. You, too, can plunk down a $495 deposit on a $4,950 toy, which may not be delivered for almost nine months. I must say this thing looks grossly overpriced to me. If it were selling for $495 total, that'd be bad enough. But $4,950 is outrageous. And this is the mysterious "it" that was supposed to change the world? Give me a break. Sure, they might sell quite a few of them for use by warehouse stock-pickers and so on, but otherwise it's just another toy for people with more money than sense.

I predict that as these things become more common we're going to see cases of "sidewalk rage", where pedestrians set up Segway riders and beat them senseless. We'll also see Segway-jackings. I also suspect it won't be long before the first Segway rider ends up plastered like a bug to the front grill of a truck.

Thanks to everyone who informed me that the Canary Islands aren't in the Pacific. I knew that, actually, but I simply skimmed past it when reading the question. These aren't my questions and answers. I just posted what a reader sent me.

Is it just my impression, or is Comdex this year a complete disaster? Attendance is way down, as is the number of exhibitors. The company behind Comdex is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, and many of the big names in PC hardware aren't even bothering to attend. Those that are are more likely to be working out of hospitality suites in hotels than from booths on the show floor. The show itself is getting very little press coverage, and much of that has to do with speculations about the future of Comdex rather than new product introductions. The morning paper had an article about Comdex, but it focused on the dubious future of the show and the absence of exhibitors. Even the on-line trade press doesn't seem to be doing much coverage. Tom's Hardware and Anand have articles up, but they're quite short and don't talk much about new products. Byte.com seems to have abandoned its Comdex coverage. There's one article by Jerry Pournelle that was posted Sunday evening, but nothing since. I wonder if there'll even be a Comdex 2003.

10:43 - I just closed the poll "What is your primary desktop operating system?" It had been running for five days and had accumulated 100 votes, which seems enough to be representative. The results (adjusted for mis-votes and hanging chads) are interesting:

Operating System Percentage
Windows 2000 41%
Windows XP 23%
Linux 19%
Windows 98/98SE 12%
Windows NT 4 Workstation 3%
Windows ME 2%
Windows 95 0%

Although we obviously have too small a sample to make any sweeping generalizations, if these numbers are at all representative, 67% of my readers use NT-based versions as their primary desktop OS and only 14% Win9X-based versions. Windows 95, as expected, is no longer used by any significant number of my readers (although, unbelievably enough, it's still in wide use among home PC users and even corporations).

The really significant number is for Linux, at 19%. That means that 19% of my readers--at least readers who chose to respond to the poll--use not just Linux on the desktop, but Linux as their primary desktop operating system. It also means that when it came time to a new operating system my readers were nearly as likely to choose Linux as Windows XP. In fact, to the extent choice was involved, they were probably more likely to choose Linux. Many of those who run Windows XP probably do so because it came bundled with their newest computer or because corporate policy requires it. Most of those who chose Linux probably actually chose Linux, as opposed to defaulting to it.

As to Windows 2000, I suspect many of its users continue to use it for the same reasons I do. It's the last Microsoft operating system release that's not heavily infected with DRM, product activation, and other nasties. It's good enough to use for now, until we get around to migrating to Linux. My guess is that if I repeat this poll a year from now or two years from now, a significant percentage of those Windows 2000 users will end up in the Linux camp. We'll see.



Thursday, 21 November 2002

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8:44 - Tuesday, Microsoft announced that they'd come up with a way to reduce the number of critical vulnerabilities in their products. Vulnerabilities that would formerly have been designated "critical" will now be designated just "important". Microsoft will reserve the "critical" designation for vulnerabilities on the level of CodeRed.

Alas, just one day after instituting this new rating system, Microsoft was forced to announce the first "critical vulnerability" using their new scale. This is a bad one, folks. The good news is that Microsoft has a patch for it. The bad news is that a "patched" system can still be exploited, and all it takes is a visit to a malicious web page.

Microsoft's bulletin is at http://www.microsoft.com/technet/treeview/default.asp?url=/technet/security/bulletin/MS02-066.asp

The Register has more information at http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/55/28215.html

Note that Microsoft's bulletin now rates the vulnerability as only "important" rather than "critical". Oh, well. That's all right, then.

10:42 - The Register has an interesting article about what is apparently a confidential internal Microsoft whitepaper from a couple of years ago that covers the issues involved in converting Hotmail from FreeBSD to Windows. What's fascinating is that this internal Microsoft document makes pretty much the same arguments for the superiority of FreeBSD to Windows that Linux advocates have been making and that Microsoft has been disputing.

13:45 - Hooray! ATI has finally released a unified driver for Linux. There are versions for XFree 4.1.0 and XFree 4.2.0 under Red Hat 8.0 and Mandrake 9.0. The driver supports various ATI adapters, including the RADEON 8500, 8500LE, AIW 8500DV, 9000 PRO, 9500 PRO, 9700 PRO, AIW 9700 PRO, and FIRE GL. I haven't tried it yet, so download and install it at your own risk. ATI lists the driver as released but not supported. Still, recent ATI drivers have been pretty solid, so I'd not have much concern about installing it. You can download the driver here.



Friday, 22 November 2002

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8:55 - Lots to do today. I'm still waiting for components for the new systems, and I have chapters in progress that I need to finish. We're having dinner with friends tonight, and tomorrow we're preparing the house for some friends who are coming in from out of town for the holiday. Posts here are going to be sporadic and short until after Thanksgiving.



Saturday, 23 November 2002

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10:40 - Barbara and I had dinner last night at Duke and Marcia Johnson's house. Although we met them through the astronomy club, their real hobby is rock collecting. Their home is full of display cases filled with beautiful sample of different rocks and minerals. Although they bought some of the sample, most they collected themselves, usually from quarries. From what Duke told us, most of the good collectable rocks are buried 100 feet or more underground, so the only way to get to them is to wait until a quarrying operation uncovers them. Rock collectors keep a close eye on quarries, and when a new seam of interesting rocks is uncovered, the collectors get permission to go in on weekends (or even at night) and collect their samples.

It's all quite interesting, but I think I'll stick to astronomy. Rock collecting sounds too much like work, what with all the climbing and chiseling and carrying samples to and fro. It's also quite dangerous. Apparently, many collectors are injured or killed in falls, cave-ins, and so on. Duke described one incident in which a boulder the size of a refrigerator shifted and pinned his leg. He was lucky in that the surface against which his leg was pinned was soft clay. He wasn't injured at all, although it took quite a while to dig him free. Had he been pinned against rock, things would not have turned out as well. Or had the boulder shifted somewhat more.

Speaking of astronomy, tonight looks to be clear, although it's to be only 37F (3C). Even at that temperature, we'd head up to Bullington to observe. The problem is that Luna is at 85% illuminated and rises at 2005. Sunset is at 1711, with nautical twilight at 1811 and astronomical twilight at 1842. That means we could get in a couple hours observing at Bullington before moonrise, but it just doesn't seem worth it. Instead, we might set up a scope in our yard and just look at Luna and Saturn, which rises at 1851.

FedEx showed up yesterday with a box full of DDR memory from Crucial. I'm gradually accumulating the stuff I need for the new systems. I have the motherboards, processors, memory, and CD writers. I'm still waiting on cases, hard drives, video cards, and some other components.

11:01 - A prominent attorney weighs in on the hatchet-job Patricia Cornwell did on Walter Sickert.

If Walter Sickert were alive, he could sue Cornwell for defamation, and the outcome would be in little doubt. Cornwell stated in an interview:

"I do believe 100 percent that Walter Richard Sickert committed those serial crimes ... This is so serious to me that I am staking my reputation on this, because if somebody literally proves me wrong not only will I feel horrible about it, but I will look terrible."

Of course, that statement says exactly nothing, just like Cornwell's book itself. At this late date, the only way to prove Cornwell wrong conclusively would be to prove beyond doubt that someone other than Walter Sickert was Jack the Ripper. That's clearly impossible--it might have been impossible had the Ripper murders occurred in 1988 rather than 1888--so Cornwell is pretty safe in staking her reputation on something that's impossible to refute.

What it is possible to say is that Sickert is no more likely to have been the ripper than were 100,000 or 1,000,000 other people who happened to live in England at the time of the murders. Cornwell has picked Sickert at random and done her best by innuendo and carefully chosen bits of data to convince readers that there is a conclusive case against Sickert. Well, not at random, exactly. Cornwell needed a reasonably well-known subject for her carefully-contrived character assassination, and alas for poor Mr. Sickert's reputation she chose him.

Patricia Cornwell does look terrible. I hope she feels horrible.


Sunday, 24 November 2002

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8:40 - Barbara is off playing golf with her dad this morning. I'm doing laundry, my weekly full network backup to tape, and other routine Sunday chores. Barbara did her White Tornado imitation yesterday, getting the downstairs area ready for our guests. Barbara wanted the downstairs shower scrubbed down thoroughly. I decided the easiest way was just to take my shower down there, so I spent half an hour or 45 minutes in the shower, scrubbing the whole thing down with SoftScrub with bleach. I also cleaned the toilet, but found out later that the job I'd done wasn't up to standard. Barbara re-did that to her satisfaction. She did a white-glove inspection job, including the top of the freezer. I also cleaned out the downstairs fireplace, but fortunately that didn't have to withstand a white-glove inspection. I should probably bring in some wood and load the fireplace, because it's supposed to rain tomorrow and Tuesday.

Oh, well. I'd better get to it.



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