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Week of 9 December 2002

Latest Update : Sunday, 15 December 2002 08:57 -0500

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Monday, 9 December 2002

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9:39 - I'm sitting around today waiting for the guy who repairs gas logs to call. When I called Piedmont Natural Gas last week just before the ice storm, they gave me the choice of a "sit around and wait for the guy to call" service appointment today or a scheduled appointment at some later time. I chose the former, because at the time I spoke to PNG the weather forecasters were predicting another winter storm for tomorrow. As it turns out, that winter storm is now predicted to be just rain, so I might have been better off taking the scheduled appointment later this week.

Oh, well. At least we'll get the gas logs repaired so we'll be prepared for the next ice storm. We were very lucky not to lose power during the last storm. We probably won't be as lucky the next time.

Read what Eric Raymond has to say about physical courage.

He concludes:

So the next time you see a man claim the role of defender, don't sneer cheer. Don't write him off with some pseudo-profound crack about macho idiocy, support him. He's trying to tool up for the job two million years of evolution designed him for, fighting off predators so the women and children can sleep safe.

Whether he's in uniform or not, young or old, fit or flabby we need that courage now.

As many men can tell you, Mr. Raymond is not exaggerating. I take seriously the role nature assigned me as a protector of women and children, but as often as not I've been ridiculed when I've offered to escort a woman to her car in a dark parking lot or to check the house for intruders when I drop her off at her home. Most women's attitude is that they can take care of themselves, and that's fine as far as it goes. Yes, women can deal on an equal basis with men in business and other day-to-day endeavors in a civilized environment. But the veneer of civilization is thin, and the barbarians are among us.

There are predators out there, a lot of them, and nearly all of them male. To state the obvious, a woman cannot deal on an equal basis with a male attacker, unless she is armed and ready. Un-uniformed, old, and flabby though I may be, most predators will think twice before taking me on, or indeed before taking on any man. From a predator's viewpoint, women are prey while men are threats. So it has always been, and so it will always be.

Naturally enough, women do not wish to think of themselves as defenseless, but wishing it were not so does not change matters. The reality is that nature has equipped men to fight, and women to bear and nurture children. That's not to say that women cannot fight when necessary or that men cannot care for children, simply that neither is best-suited for the other's role. Nor is it to say that both men and women can't be good business executives or physicians or truck drivers or musicians, or whatever they wish to be. A man who never has to fight is no less a man, any more than a woman who never bears children is any less a woman. But the fundamental purpose of a man is to fight when necessary to defend the women and children of his family, his clan, his friends, his community, and his country. Any man worthy of the name must be prepared to do that.

Knowing how I feel about government and authority, Barbara was surprised the first couple of times that I bought dinner for a group of cops who happened to come into the restaurant where we were having dinner. She shouldn't have been. I respect and honor policemen, firemen, soldiers, utility company linemen, and others who put their lives on the line to protect us. Most civilians will never know the gut-wrenching fear of going through a door knowing there may be armed bad guy waiting on the other side, or of going into a burning building to rescue a child, or of climbing an ice-covered utility pole in the dark to repair a line carrying 50,000 volts. It's thanks to these heroes that we don't have to.

I join with Mr. Raymond in deploring those who demean a man for being a man.

11:18 - It's been a utility company morning. Shortly after I finished my last post, the door bell rang. I figured it was probably the natural gas guy, but it turned out to be a guy from Duke Power, here to install an upgraded electricity meter. This one can be read from the curb. Apparently, it has a built-in RF device that when queried returns the current meter reading. Instead of having to physically visit each meter to read it, the Duke Power meter reader can just cruise down the street reading the meters as he drives.

About 11:00 the doorbell rang again. This time it was the guy from Piedmont Natural Gas. When I mentioned that I thought he was going to call first, he said they always tried visiting before calling. Apparently, the company provides them cell phones but limits them to $200/month of air-time, after which they have to pay for it themselves. That seems odd, both in the sense that I'd think $200/month would buy them essentially unlimited airtime--certainly enough to cover a month's worth of service calls-and the fact that they end up having to pay overages themselves.

At any rate, after I penned the dogs (the guy was scared to death of them) he came in and knelt before the fireplace that has the natural gas logs installed. He moved a couple of the fake logs, blew on the pilot light area, put the logs back, and fired it up. The pilot light lit normally and stayed lit, as did the main burner. Arrgggh. I told the guy that I'd tried cleaning out the pilot light area with a brush and that it hadn't solved the problem. He said the next time we had a problem we should use a drinking straw to blow the pilot light area clean.

That was somewhat embarrassing, the computer equivalent of calling tech support before making sure the computer is plugged in, but I didn't feel too badly about it. I'll mess with most things, but natural gas is something one shouldn't mess with lightly. At any rate, our gas logs now work fine, and if we lose power in the next ice storm we'll be ready to endure the outage.


Tuesday, 10 December 2002

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8:43 - No paper this morning. No one else on our street got one, either. As Barbara said, our paper delivery person is quite reliable, so we suspect a problem with the newspaper's press or delivery system.

Do kids even deliver papers any more? When I was growing up, kids delivered the morning and evening papers. They came around on Saturday morning to collect. Everyone had a little card. When you paid the kid, he punched a hole for the appropriate week to serve as a receipt. At Christmas, you gave the kid a decent tip.

The paper arrived literally at your door. You knew when it got there every morning because you heard it hit the front door. It came folded into a squarish package, in order that it could be thrown accurately from the street to your door. Once in a great while, it'd end up in your front bushes (or on your roof), but about 99% of the time all you had to do was open the front door, bend over, and pick it up.

Nowadays, I don't think kids deliver papers any more. It's mostly retired people, who pick up large numbers of papers, put them rolled into plastic bags, and then drive down the street tossing them into front yards. We never see the paper arrive, unless for some reason we happen to be awake at 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. The newspaper sends us an invoice, so we never see the person who delivers it.

When I was young, paper routes were eagerly sought after by kids who wanted to make some money. They weren't given away, either. If you wanted a paper route, you had to buy it. Running a paper route was in a very real sense running a small business. The kids had to deal with suppliers, collect payments, and deal with upset customers. It taught them a lot about business and about life. Kids learned that people were counting on them, and excuses weren't good enough. They learned about the reality of getting up and going to work whether they felt like it or not. Although I don't have any statistics to back me up, I'd be very surprised if many of these kids ever got in trouble with the law.

Apparently kids don't deliver papers any more, and I think that's a shame.



Wednesday, 11 December 2002

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8:38 - I am not pleased with Mozilla 1.2.1. Since I installed it a week ago, various odd things have been happening. None of the problems have been major, just niggling things that didn't use to happen with Mozilla 1.1. For example, last night I was looking at Pournelle's puppy pictures. When I clicked on a thumbnail, the full-size image would start to load, and then would stall half-way through the picture. Refreshing sometimes displayed more of the picture, and sometimes not. I eventually did get all of the images to display fully, though.

While I was there I clicked on Pournelle's currentmail page and got a 404 error. That had happened several times over the last few days, and I don't think the problem is on Pournelle's end. Also, when I clicked a link to display the TV Guide listings page, which I'd been looking at only a few minutes earlier, I got the main page for mazin.net instead of the TV Guide site. Obviously, there's some kind of DNS problem going on, but I'm not sure what it is. I hesitate to blame Mozilla for this, because while Brian was here we did bring up a Linux Internet gateway box and install a caching DNS server. Something about that configuration may be causing the problem.

The main reason I installed Mozilla 1.2.1 was that I wanted to try the alpha of Mozilla Calendar, the current version of which requires 1.2 or higher. That didn't happen. When I got to the Calendar page on the Mozilla site and clicked on the link to install, a little box popped up to ask if I wanted to install Calendar. I told it to proceed, but nothing happened. I thought perhaps Webwasher was blocking the script it needed or something, so I disabled Webwasher, turned off all the anti-scripting stuff in Mozilla, refreshed the page, and tried again. No joy. I get the box, tell it to go ahead, and nothing happens. It sure would be nice to have a functioning calendar again, but I guess that's not to be, at least for now.



Thursday, 12 December 2002

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8:18 - I've been doing heads-down writing all week, and today will be more of the same. And tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow...

11:44 - Tim O'Reilly demolishes the arguments of the RIAA and MPAA here.



Friday, 13 December 2002

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8:44 - Friday the 13th falls on a Friday this month.

I've gotten several emails asking me what I think should be done about Senator Trent Lott. My answer is nothing. I've read what he said, and it's not at all clear to me that his remarks were intended to be racist. People seem quick to assume that Mr. Lott was longing for the Good Old Days, when blacks "knew their place" and separation of the races was enforced with burning crosses and lynch mobs.

But it wasn't clear to me from what Mr. Lott said that he was thinking about race issues at all. He might have been thinking that if the Dixiecrats had been elected the US might not have gotten involved in Viet Nam or that the economic problems caused by Democrat presidents and congresses might not have happened. Or he might have meant nothing at all, really. He might just have been trying to say something nice about Mr. Thurmond.

I don't think anyone can reasonably accuse Mr. Lott of being racist based on what he's said. They can, however, accuse him of not being very bright. What Mr. Lott should have said at his first opportunity was something like, "Holy Cow! I can't believe I said that. I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and sometimes my mouth starts running before I get my brain in gear. All I meant to do was say something nice about Mr. Thurmond. As does any reasonable man, I deplore and repudiate the racism and separatist platform of the Dixiecrat Party, and I sincerely apologize to anyone who took my remarks to mean otherwise."

Stupid people are always worried about looking stupid. I think Mr. Lott's stumbling attempts at an apology are just another example of that.

10:54 - Those fun folks at the IAB (Internet Advertising Bureau) are at it again. It seems that the reason Internet advertising is a dismal failure is that the ads are small (!) and unobtrusive (!). The IAB answer is to make them larger and more obtrusive. The proposed new sizes are 160X600, 300X250, 180X150, and 728X90. I've already configured WebWasher to block these new sizes, and suggest you do the same with your ad-blocking software.

If you're not running ad-blocking software, why not? Internet ads are a plague that needs to be stamped out. We'll never have a usable micro-payment system as long as Internet advertising survives in any form. You can do your part to kill Internet advertising by downloading and installing ad-blocking software of some sort. If you're running Norton Internet Security or a similar product, make sure to turn on the ad-blocking feature. If you're not running any ad-blocking software, I can recommend WebWasher, which is free for personal use.



Saturday, 14 December 2002

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9:43 - I've just been playing with Froogle, which looks as though it may eventually be useful. For now, though, it seems a bit confusing. I entered several items and examined the results it returned. For a couple, it indeed listed very inexpensive sources for the items. For others, it listed expensive sources near the top, and less expensive sources further down. For example, when I searched for 40mm Pentax XL, Froogle returned Adorama at $234.95. That indeed is a good price, just $0.95 more than the cheapest I've seen that eyepiece listed. But when I searched for 14mm Pentax XL, Froogle returned Astronomics first, at $227.50. Anacortes, which was selling the same eyepiece for only $214, appeared fifth on the list. Obviously, this stuff isn't ranked by price, although one can filter on price by entering a range of prices for which to return hits.

I used that method to search for Plextor 48-24-48A, and was surprised to find eight vendors selling that drive for less than $115, and one for only $99. A search for dvd-ram drive found a Panasonic LF-D321U DVD-RAM drive for $200 at TigerDirect. Then I decided to look for cases, so I searched for antec slk3700amb, which turned up 115 hits, three of which were for less than $70. Just for comparison, I searched for the same string on PriceWatch.com, which returned only four hits ranging from $72 to $85. Yeah, I can see where Froogle might be useful. I've already bookmarked the Froogle Advanced Search.



Sunday, 15 December 2002

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8:57 - We did the usual Sunday chores yesterday. Barbara is off playing golf with her father, and I'm going to take the day off, more or less.



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