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Week of 6 January 2003

Latest Update : Sunday, 12 January 2003 10:01 -0500

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Monday, 6 January 2003

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8:39 - I am still suffering with a bad cold, which makes it hard to get much done.

After the recent discussions of CD burning under Linux, I happened to be reading this article on NewsForge, when the following comment caught my eye:

Ok, I've been a desktop linux use for over 3 years now, mostly the latest mandrake and redhat(whichever has then newest distro, redhat usually is shortly after mandrake). I have always dual booted, but recently win2k has decide to randomly lock up on me so I called it quit with windows. Everything's great except CD Burning. Plenty of apps to do it on redhat8, xcdroast, koncd, and others. None of which work out of the box because of them not seeing my IDE 12x burner. They assume scsi burner and I've been told that you can get this to work using some scsi emulation. So i find a few links discussing the steps necessary for this to happen. Maybe I've missed some type of shortcut, but this looks like a real pain in the ass.

Something that is as common as CD burning is these days really needs to work right out of the box.

So if someone who's been using desktop Linux for three years has problems getting CD burning working, I suppose it's not surprising if a new user finds Linux CD burning support to be less than perfect. Granted, this guy's problem was in getting Linux to recognize his burner, which I had no problem with at all, but it is indicative. Some of the follow-on comments are also interesting.



Tuesday, 7 January 2003

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9:55 - Several of my domains are due for renewal shortly, so I decided yesterday to get to work on them. I have most of my domains at PairNIC, but Barbara's three fritchman.* domains are with Joker.com. I decided to consolidate all of them at GoDaddy.com, and that's when the fun started. I transferred the first one, hardwareguys.com, which had been with PairNIC. I forwarded a courtesy copy of one of the confirmation messages to Greg Lincoln, who runs the server that hosts my domains. I mentioned to Greg that I planned to transfer several domains to GoDaddy.com, including the three from Joker.com. I'm glad I mentioned that, because Greg warned me about the ridiculously convoluted process required to transfer a domain from Joker.com to some other registrar.

Those three domains are registered in Barbara's name, so I went over to Joker.com and logged in as her. I located the FAQ page with instructions about how to transfer a domain away from Joker, and they are unbelievable. Joker.com makes it as hard as possible to transfer a domain away from them. They claim the German government requires these measures, but I suspect Joker.com's desire not to lose business has a lot to do with them.

Basically, the first step is to "open a window" for the domain transfer. You have to do that at Joker.com, and you have to do it before the new registrar requests the transfer. If you haven't done that, the new registrar simply gets no response to its request. With a lot of registrars, that would have cost me money, because they charge for a failed domain transfer. GoDaddy.com doesn't, but I'm still glad Greg warned me about the problem.

So I went through the process to open a transfer window for each of the three domains at Joker.com. Joker.com sends a confirmation email to the owner of the domain (which is barbara at ttgnet dot com) and another to the administrative contact (which is also barbara at ttgnet dot com). I went to Barbara's system and checked her email, where I found three messages for each domain name, a total of nine. I replied to the first message (the one to the owner) for each of the three domains, figuring that'd be sufficient. Fortunately, I checked the domain transfer status page at Joker.com for one of the domains. It told me that the owner had approved the transfer, but it was waiting for the admin contact to approve the transfer. Duh. The owner and the admin contact are the same person, with the same contact record at joker.com, and the same email address. But that's not good enough for them, no. I had to reply a second time for each domain, this time responding to the message sent to the admin contact.

So, at that point I checked the domain transfer status record at Joker.com and found that the status for each domain transfer was "approved". I should have been good to go, right? Wrong. Joker.com's "domain transfer window" opens five days after the request is made, despite the fact that the transfer has already been approved by both the domain owner and the admin contact. In effect, Joker.com is holding my domain hostage for five days, hoping that I'll change my mind. If I initiate the transfer from GoDaddy.com prior to that five-day delay, Joker.com will refuse the transfer. This is insane. I'm glad I started the transfers in plenty of time.

In short, my advice is not to register or renew domains with Joker.com. Not only are they more expensive than GoDaddy.com, but they try everything possible to keep you as their customer even when you want to leave. A pox on Joker.com.



Wednesday, 8 January 2003

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8:42 - I'm still covered up, so I don't have much time to write my journal. I need to spend some time soon getting my inbox trimmed down to size. There are close to 50 "real" messages in there--things I have to actually do something about rather than just reading them or reading them and typing a quick response. I also need to find a half hour or so to do a "sanity check" on Pournelle's new column sometime today. And I'm still working heads-down on the book.

10:19 - Several readers have asked me for my take on the situation with North Korea. Pretty clearly, diplomacy and negotiation is a non-starter. North Korea does not live up to existing agreements, so there's good reason to expect that they wouldn't live up to any new agreements either. Obviously, North Korea is trying to extort support in the form of financial, food, and other aid from the US and other nations. Giving in to extortion is never a real solution.

I was going to call North Korea a third-world country, but that would be an insult to third-world countries everywhere. North Korea is a ninth-world country. It's not only unable to feed its people, it's unable to come anywhere close to doing so. In the last five years, the US alone has given the equivalent of a quarter ton of food for every man, woman, and child in North Korea, as well as a significant fraction of the petroleum they consume. North Korea is a totally rotten structure, just waiting for someone to come along and kick the door in. Unfortunately, North Korea also has 2,000,000 soldiers, most of whom are deployed on the border with South Korea. Even more unfortunately, North Korea supposedly has at least two fission bombs and the missiles to deliver them.

The mainland US is not in any danger from the North Korean nukes, but such cities as Seoul and Tokyo are. There are also something like 37,000 US military personal stationed in South Korea, and all of them are at risk. The question is, should the US take active measures to solve the problem? I see two solutions, of which I strongly prefer the first.

1. Withdraw the 37,000 US military personnel from South Korea. North Korea doesn't want them there, and there is, if not a majority, at least a strong minority of South Koreans who don't want them there either. In effect, the US has been subsidizing South Korea by putting ourselves between them and North Korea. It's time for that to end. The US should also immediately stop shipping any form of aid, including food and medicines, to North Korea. What other nations choose to do is their concern. We should withdraw our forces from Japan and other areas under threat from the North Korean nukes. If the lunatic who runs North Korea actually detonates those nukes over Tokyo or Seoul, we don't want any of our people or military assets anywhere near them.

The drawback of this choice, of course, is that North Korea does have 2,000,000 soldiers poised on the border of South Korea. There's a very good chance that North Korea would invade and conquer South Korea, which means disk drives, monitors, memory and other computer components would be in short supply, as would TVs, VCRs, and similar consumer electronics, automobiles, and so on. The question is, do we care? The US builds its own cars now, and we could certainly get back in the business of building computer components and consumer electronics. If anything, it might be good for business here, although it'd be tough on countries in the Pacific Rim. But with the Pacific Rim gone, the US, Canada, and Mexico could certainly produce what we need for domestic consumption. The truth is, I'd rather buy a TV made in Mexico or plywood made in Canada or a telescope made in the US than Pacific Rim products anyway.

It's very attractive to assure ourselves that Korea is not our problem, and I truly wish that what I described above was viable. The problem, of course, is that North Korea left to itself will expand its horizons. Communism and Socialism are bankrupt philosophies, both morally and in practical terms. Once North Korea invades and occupies the dynamo that is South Korea, the dynamo will cease to spin. Before long, we'll have a unified Korea in the same condition that North Korea is now in. Poor, unable to feed itself, and in possession of (by that time) quite a few nukes. What's worse is that it's quite possible that by that time North Korea will have missiles capable of reaching the US mainland, and that is completely unacceptable.

What does one do with a rabid dog? One shoots it. Not because one dislikes the dog or wants to shoot the dog, but because the dog is a deadly threat. And that brings us to solution number two, which is I fear the only viable solution. North Korea needs to be put down before it can rain nuclear destruction on anyone. The way to do that is to rain nuclear destruction on North Korea. Not because we particularly want to kill North Korean people, but because we have to be 100%, absolutely certain that we take out their nuclear capability before they can use it. That is, quite simply, the only way to ensure the safety of our friends and allies in the region, as well as our own safety in the long term.

When a lunatic possesses nuclear weapons and has threatened to use them, one must take that lunatic seriously. If killing the lunatic would suffice, we should simply kill the lunatic. But obviously doing that, even if it were practical, is no guarantee that the weapons would not be unleashed. So, the only solution is to take out Pyongyang and other North Korean cities, take out all military and communications facilities, and all launch sites (real or potential). Nor can we leave 2,000,000 North Korean soldiers poised on the border of South Korea in the aftermath of a pre-emptive nuclear strike. That means they have to go as well.

If Mr. Bush asked me, I would therefore recommend a Time on Target nuclear strike on all of North Korea, say about 10:00 tomorrow morning. We should use airbursts to the maximum extent possible to minimize fall-out. For deeply buried targets, we should use conventional earth penetrators where possible. Where that's not possible, or would not guarantee results, we should use baby nuke penetrators, which yield only localized fall-out.

I don't see that we really have much choice here. The chances that North Korea will actually use their nukes is too high to risk. Better that we choose the time and place than let that choice be made for us.



Thursday, 9 January 2003

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11:09 - Ooops. CNN Tech ran an article yesterday entitled Microsoft IM outage hits millions. (At first, I misread that as "outrage"). Their vaunted .NET IM service was down for five hours. I seem to recall Microsoft blathering on about .NET and "five nines" reliability. Off the top of my head, I think that means .NET is going to have to run without a second of downtime for about the next 57 years. How likely is that?

One of the interesting things about working with Linux for the book is seeing some of the differences between the distributions I'm running. Although Red Hat 8.0 and Mandrake 9.0 have a lot in common, there are some surprising differences in how they do things. There's a lot to like about Mandrake 9.0, and the reviews of it seem quite favorable. I'd consider standardizing on it for desktop use, but I'm afraid Mandrake won't be here this time next year. For better or worse, I think it's Red Hat for me. Some people say Red Hat 8.0 is a bloated, Windows-like distribution, but for me that's a ringing endorsement. Perhaps I'll feel differently once I have a few years of Linux experience under my belt, but for now the more bloated and Windows-like the better as far as I'm concerned.

I was surprised to find that Linux lacks packet-writing support, or if it's there I can't find it. There's a kernel patch available that adds basic packet-writing features for the 2.4 and 2.5 kernels, but unless I'm missing something standard distributions just don't support packet-writing. Presumably Linux will support Mount Rainier at some point, so perhaps it's just a matter of waiting for the next major kernel release.



Friday, 10 January 2003

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10:21 - The hardwareguys.com domain transfer from PairNIC to GoDaddy completed successfully. Finally. All of this is lot harder and more time consuming than it should be. I started the process for transferring ttgnet.com this morning. Just completing the required information to start the transfer took almost half an hour, although a good part of that was waiting on the GoDaddy.com secure server to return pages. At one point, I sat for more than two minutes (measured) waiting for a response after I clicked the Continue button.

I've started the process for transferring Barbara's three domains--fritchman.com, fritchman.net, and fritchman.org--from Joker.com to GoDaddy. I've started it on the Joker.com end, that is. I'm still waiting for the Joker.com "window" to open so that I can initiate the process at GoDaddy.com. That window should open tomorrow afternoon my time, so I'll get all three of those in process from the GoDaddy end then. After that, I still have to transfer technomayhem.com, researchsolutions.net, and wsal.org. Fortunately, all of those are currently with PairNIC, which makes transferring away a lot easier than Joker.com does. I'm also telling GoDaddy.com to renew each domain automatically when it comes due, which should reduce the hassle this time next year.

Despite the occasional slowness of their servers, GoDaddy.com seems to be an excellent registrar. I've not heard many complaints against them, and most people who use them seem to be happy with them. Of course, some registrars have started well and gone down hill rapidly. I suppose that might happen to GoDaddy.com, so I thought about leaving one or two domains at PairNIC, but after thinking about it for a while I decided just to move them all to GoDaddy.com.

I'm finishing work on the CD writers chapter and starting on the DVD chapter, which covers both DVD-ROM and DVD writers. I'm wondering what I need to add to the DVD chapter, particularly with regard to Linux (both DVD-ROM and DVD writers). Any suggestions appreciated.

I'm also wondering about what to change generally with regard to DVD writers. In the first edition, I basically said that it was a horserace and there was no winner clear at that point. I said pretty much the same in the second edition, and I'm very much afraid that I'll have to say the same in the third. The writable DVD format war shows no signs of ending. There are powerful companies on all sides, and billions of dollars in licensing fees at stake. Dvorak says,

"This has got to be the last year of the DVD wars, with DVD-RW and DVD+RW being the last two standards battling it out. Of course, there is a skirmish going on between DVD-R and DVD+R. I think the other standards, like DVD-RAM, are already off the radar."

but I think he's full of it. If anything, DVD-R/DVD-RW should be "off the radar." It was designed for video rather than computer data, and as such lacks such critical data features as robust error correction and the ability to write randomly. Pretty clearly, a format that lacks reliable error correction and allows only sequential writes is unsuited to storing computer data, although an awful lot of DVD-R/DVD-RW drives are installed in PCs. Then we have DVD-RAM, which Dvorak so casually dismisses. DVD-RAM is by far the best choice for storing computer data, and is backed by the DVD Forum. Basically, the DVD Forum pushes DVD-RAM for computer data and DVD-R/DVD-RW for video. DVD+RW is basically a compromise format, put forward by a separate group of major manufacturers, and not recognized by the DVD Forum. DVD+RW is better than DVD-RAM for video, but not as good as DVD-R/DVD-RW. Similarly, DVD+RW is better than DVD-R/RW for computer data, but not as good as DVD-RAM.

There are a lot of issues, including compatibility levels with DVD players, media reliability, and hybrid drives that among them make it unclear (at least to me) which will eventually triumph. What do you think? Let me know over on the Daynotes Journal Forums.



Saturday, 11 January 2003

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Sunday, 12 January 2003

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10:01 - I never got around to posting yesterday. I'm working now on the DVD chapter, and spent some time reading about the current state of things in DVD. I may need to re-adjust my viewpoint on writable DVD. I come at it from a PC perspective. Considered purely as a PC storage device, there's no question. DVD-RAM is superior to DVD+RW and immensely superior to DVD-RW, if only because DVD-RAM supports defect mapping and sequential access. I thought that was a major issue. But there's no question that DVD-RW and particularly DVD-R have advantages for video recording, not least being their superior compatibility with DVD players. I thought that was a minor issue.

As it turns out, many readers are telling me that CD-RW meets their requirements for data, that they don't really need anything more capacious, and that their primary interest in writable DVD is for home video editing and mastering. That surprises me, and it's pretty clear I've missed something that's of real interest to PC hobbyists. I thought the thing about video editing and burning DVDs that could be played on home DVD players was a minor thing that Intel and the rest hoped to make the Next Big Thing. I thought they'd fail in that, but perhaps I'm wrong. I don't have a video camera, nor even a DVD player, and the only time I touch a DVD is when I test DVD drives in PCs. I guess I need to learn more about all this.

Barbara and I decided to "camp out" downstairs last night. I don't watch much TV, and hardly ever watch movies, but TCM had a series of classic horror movies starting at 8:00 last night with Creature from the Black Lagoon, followed by the original Frankenstein, The Mummy, and The Thing (From Another World). We decided to set up the sofa-bed downstairs, make a real wood fire in the fireplace (we have gas logs upstairs), and settle in for the evening.

We had all three dogs downstairs with us, and had a relaxing evening. I made it through the first two movies, but by the time The Mummy started I was pretty beat. So we turned off the light and slept downstairs. Kerry can't make it up the stairs, so he was stuck there. Duncan stayed at the foot of the stairs, refusing to set foot in the living area. He's apparently afraid of the fire. Malcolm played ball, as usual. After Creature from the Black Lagoon finished around 9:30, we took the guys out in the back yard for their final chance. When we came back in, Duncan headed upstairs to sleep in his usual place. Malcolm also disappeared, and we were wondering if he'd gone in his crate, where he usually starts the night. Malcolm came back downstairs later and climbed up on the sofa-bed to sleep.

During the night, I decided to move down to sleep on the floor. I prefer a very firm mattress, and the sofa-bed was a bit soft for me. The floor is carpet and pad over concrete, which is about right. Once the fire died down, it got a bit chilly down there. I was kind of hoping that Malcolm would come down and curl up next to me. He's a very warm dog, and that warmth would have been welcome. But instead Malcolm spent the night curled up next to Barbara on the sofa-bed. Oh, well.



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