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Week of 13 January 2003

Latest Update : Sunday, 19 January 2003 09:18 -0500

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Monday, 13 January 2003

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9:44 - I'm going to be doing heads-down writing until I finish the first draft of the third edition. That means posts here are likely to be short and sporadic. Today I'm working on DVD, which I hope to have knocked out by tomorrow, or Wednesday at the latest. It's a real shame that the copyright pigs have managed to tie up DVD, particularly writable DVD, to the extent they have. If it weren't for the MPAA, laws like the DMCA, and politicians like Fritz "Hollywood" Hollings, DVD would be a much more useful technology today than it is.

Instead, the copyright pigs have basically managed to make DVD illegal for Linux-based systems, or so nearly so as not to matter, while relegating DVD writers to a niche market. If it weren't for the copyright pigs, CD-RW would be a dying technology, all of us would have DVD writers on all our systems, and we'd be using $0.50 DVD blanks to make personal copies of whatever we wished.

I'm still dithering about the dueling writable DVD format issue. At first glance, DVD+R and DVD+RW seem attractive, but I think there's a good chance they'll be the losers. I say that because, although DVD+R(W) does data better than DVD-R(W) and does video better than DVD-RAM, it's inferior to DVD-R(W) for video and inferior to DVD-RAM for data. If most people had a choice and understood all the issues, they'd put DVD-RAM drives in their PCs for data and DVD-R drives for video. DVD+R(W) is based on the assumption that most people want to buy only one DVD writer, and even though DVD+R(W) isn't the best at anything it's a good compromise. The trouble is, it's an unnecessary compromise.

It'd be far better if you could buy one drive that could write DVD-RAM discs when you needed to write data, and DVD-R discs when you needed to write video. Unfortunately for DVD+R(W), you can buy such drives. So where does that leave DVD+RW? Out in the cold, as far as I can see. My impression is that the best idea for maximum flexibility is to buy a drive that can write DVD-RAM and DVD-R. Then buy some re-writable DVD-RAM discs for data, and some write-once DVD-R discs for video.

Am I wrong? Let me know over on the messageboard.

There appears to be some cause for concern about AdAware. I've been using AdAware since shortly after it was first released, but updates seem to be very slow in coming lately. I downloaded and installed Spybot Search & Destroy this morning. It's a bit different from AdAware, but it appears to do the job and scans very quickly. If you do install it, you might want to disable scanning for Usage Tracking (Settings - File Sets). I ran the program with default settings right after I installed it, and was horrified to find nearly 100 problems. Nearly all of those were Usage Tracking (e.g., WinZip keeping a list of recently used files), and so weren't problems at all.

11:56 - There's an interesting post on Bilbrey's site this morning. I find myself completely in agreement with Brian on this issue. I wouldn't ever intentionally do anything to make my site less accessible to the blind, but nor do I spend any time attempting to make it more so. It's a resource allocation issue. I have very limited time available, and choosing to spend it on one thing just means I can't spend it on something else.

I actually have thought about the accessibility issue from time to time. I concluded that my site should be reasonably accessible. It's mostly text. I use few images. Most of those, like my photograph at the top of the page and the separator bar above have descriptive filenames (photo-rbt.jpg and separator.jpg, respectively). I don't enter alternate text simply because it's one more thing to do and of very limited value to anyone, including blind visitors. Ordinarily, when I post an image I describe it in the nearby text anyway. If I have a few images that blind visitors can't access, well I'm not going to worry about it and I suspect they don't worry about it either. I am not blind, and there are a lot of images I miss out on as well. I refuse to load Shockwave and Flash, so I never see those images. I have a lot of image servers blocked, so I never see images from them, either. Missing a few images is not the end of the world, particularly on text-only pages that use text-only navigation.

As a matter of fact, one of things that I well and truly hated about Mozilla Composer was its insane insistence that I enter alternate text. Every time I embedded an image in a page, up would pop that damned dialog, insisting that I either enter alternate text or mark a checkbox to tell Composer that I didn't want to use alternate text for that image. What was missing, and I regard this as inexcusable, is an "I don't want to use alternate text for this or any other image, so never ask me again" option. I realize that the Mozilla developers were trying to do the "right thing" and force users to enter alternate text, probably both to help the blind and to ensure W3C compatibility, but I deeply resent their attempt to force me to do something I don't want to do.

That reminded me of the reason I gave up Eudora Mail and refuse to use it ever again. I wanted to send mail with return-receipts requested. Eudora Mail allowed me to request a return receipt, but I had to do so on a per-message basis. There was no option to enabled RR-requests globally, and Eudora even had a self-righteous little blurb in the on-line help that told me they wouldn't give me a global RR-request option because that wasted bandwidth. Well, screw them. I don't need people artificially limiting my choices because of their own agenda. Make the default option off for return receipts. That's fine, and accomplishes their goal. But don't refuse to allow me to do something that I want or need to do.




Tuesday, 14 January 2003

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10:21 - Roland Dobbins sends this link with the subject, "Outrageous, if true". Outrageous, indeed. As the article points out, Linux folks have been expecting Microsoft to bring software patent suits to stifle Linux, but having the suit originate from SCO is a real slap in the face. It's pretty clear that Linux is unstoppable by any means other than our bloated legal system, so I fully expect Microsoft to begin serious, broad-based attacks on the software-patent front in the very near future. But to have the starting shorts fired by SCO is very disturbing.

And here's a follow-up article, and yet another follow-up article, also sent to me by Roland. From these and other articles I've read, it appears that SCO is simply asking people who have converted from SCO Unix to Linux and are still using SCO Unix libraries for compatibility with existing applications to pay a license fee for using those libraries. That's within their rights, and certainly not a threat to Linux generally if that's as far as it goes.

I sent this mailing to subscribers yesterday:

FedEx just showed up with a couple of Serial ATA Seagate Barracuda V drives. In talking with my contact at Seagate, I learned that there is a pretty big performance issue with the SIL 3112A SATA controller chip. Version 1.21 or later is recommended. Earlier versions have performance problems.

I have exactly two SATA-capable motherboards in house, an Intel D845PEBT2 and an ASUS A7N8X. I checked the SIL SATA controller chip on both, and both have rev 1.1. It's a physical chip that can't be upgraded by flashing the ROM or anything, so I'm stuck at 1.1 with these boards. Oh, well.

Fortunately, I also have a SIIG SATA controller card on the way in, so I'll have a chance to compare performance differences between 1.1 and 1.21. From what my Seagate contact told me, the 1.1 rev works, but the performance is not great. You really, really want rev 1.21 or higher on the SIL 3112A, so it's worth making a point of if you're buying a new motherboard.

I was listening to National Liberal Radio several days ago, and heard an interview with this guy. He claims, on what sounded to me very shaky evidence, that the Chinese discovered America in 1421, well before Christopher Columbus reached the New World. The interviewer didn't ask the author any hard questions, so it was difficult to judge from what was said whether his claims had any validity. Then I happened across this article on CNN. It appears that few historians are taking his claims seriously, and this excerpt from the web site may show why:

The evidence is overwhelming, and encompasses both physical entities, (such as shipwrecks of Chinese junks in America, Australia and Indonesia.) and examples such as the carved stones of Africa, the remains of Chinese peoples in South America, and artefacts scattered all over the world, inscribed with Chinese characters, in Chinese styles, and some successfully dated back to before the arrival of the Europeans.

Eh? Disregarding the fact that he can't spell artifacts, his logic is dubious at best. Say you dig up a human skeleton and find with the remains a coin dated 1421. A rational investigator notes that the person is likely to have died in 1421 or later, assuming that the coin was in fact minted in 1421. That's all one can say without further information. The person may have died in 1650, or 1913, or just yesterday. In fact, the person may have died much earlier than 1421 if there is any way that the coin could have been placed with the remains well after death, although it's a reasonable assumption in the absence of evidence to the contrary that the person was probably still walking around in 1421.

Equally, uncovering a Chinese artifact that dates to before 1492 proves nothing. Regardless of the date it was made, that artifact may have been placed where it was found any time after it was made. I have books printed more than 100 years before I was born. I've read those books, and a forensic examination would reveal my fingerprints on them. Does that prove that I read those books more than 100 years before I was born? The presence of Chinese junks also proves nothing, even if radiocarbon dating or dendrochronology establishes that the junks were made prior to 1492. What counts is not when the junk was made, or even when the wood from which it was made was cut, but when the junk sunk. That's a point that seems to have escaped this author.

This from James Chamier, which is representative of several similar messages I've received.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: DVD debate
Date: Mon, 13 Jan 2003 18:55:11 +0000
From: James Chamier
Organization: at home with the servers...
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

Hi Bob,

I've posted on the messageboard, but I thought it may be easier to email this information instead as its getting a bit long.

I think you've actually got the emphasis wrong about the differences between the + and - DVD formats. Also DVD-RAM is an interesting media, but I can only see it being used as a random access alternative to tape by some people in the IT industry. DVD-RAM does not have enough capacity to replace backup systems in data centers, so I'll agree it's a great consumer backup product.

The big question is, what is the medium really for? I believe CD-R and RW are good enough for most home users in terms of backup. Writable DVD are sold so that people can create DVD videos that they can give to someone with a set-top-box DVD player. This is the 'big new hobby'. DVD players have sold in amazing quantities in the last 2 years, especially if you include those built in to the gaming systems PS2 and X-Box. The quality of VHS video pictures is now seen as 'bad' due to the number of people who have watched DVD movies. Modern camcorders have twice the resolution of VHS, and so the advantage of recordable DVD appears. My father has already made 3 wedding DVD's for friends, even the software now works!

The -R format is the 'official standard' from the DVD forum, -RW rewritable was invented by Pioneer and subsequently adopted by the DVD forum. While there are many combined DVD-RAM/-R drives, few other than Pioneer make -R/-RW rewritable drives.

The + format came from DVD Forum members who wanted to make a better product. It was 6 months later 'to market' which does not matter now. In the +R camp are DVD Forum members who are also some of the world's major manufacturers, including Philips, HP, Sony and Ricoh. They agreed to give Ricoh the initial hardware manufacturing contract until volumes rose.

In the UK video magazines the consensus is that there is now little to choose between -R and +R on playability, and prices of branded media have converged. It is true that unbranded -R media are cheaper, but these are reckoned to be product rejected on quality by the brand names, and apparently give more playability issues, perhaps not a medium to use for a wedding video, or data backup.

Sony have produced (and so has another brand) a dual format drive that does -R/-RW/+R/+RW. This is good news for Pioneer, but Sony are trying to avoid the marketplace problem they had with MiniDisc. They launched MD at the same time as Philips launched Digital Compact Cassette. The buying public didn't know which to buy, so neither sold! Eventually DCC died and MiniDisc is now a good secondary format used for home recordings.

Ignoring complex technical arguments about data integrity comparisons what is the user experience. -R/-RW writers showed 50% DVD players could read rewritable, over 95% could read write once, but video producers loved what they could now do with DVD, hence many commentators said -R was the 'best'. The + camp launched without write once and the rewritable +RW compatibility was the same as -RW. Within months +R was added, HP even ran a TradeIn program for their old drives.

>From the user perspective + is faster than - on both write once and rewritable for a given laser technology. Second generation -RW drive can now do 2x rewrite, but requires formatting, 1st generation +RW does 2.4x rewrite without formatting. This formatting is a significant time, taking over an hour! MPEG2 encoding is a processor intensive activity for good quality, and so DVD creation is a slow process, hence rewritable tests are essential. Hence saving the formatting before writing time is important, you have to experience this to realise how + is nicer than - to use!

An independently run website shows the differences between the technologies, the set-top-box recorder tables are very revealing.




James Chamier
"Thats it boys, it's a wrap!"

Thanks. My own feeling is that with the price of write-once DVD-R and DVD+R discs plummeting, rewritability is a non-issue for recording videos. DVD-R and DVD+R discs are fundamentally similar to CD-R discs, and there's no reason their prices shouldn't rapidly fall into the $0.50 range. Of course, there are royalty costs that I don't pretend to understand fully, but I doubt those will prevent the write-once discs from becoming commoditized just like CD-R discs. The DVD-R and DVD+R patent holders both want the huge revenue stream that will result if their products become the market standard, and with the two competing I suspect royalties of only pennies per disc will become the norm.

To my way of thinking, the ideal DVD writer is one that can write both DVD-R (for video) and DVD-RAM (for data). DVD-RW and DVD+RW are both deficient for data, not least because they don't support defect mapping, which DVD-RAM does natively. DVD+RW backers claim defect mapping support, but that's not actually a feature of the DVD+RW format. Instead, they're counting on Mt. Rainier DVD+RW drives, which aren't shipping as far as I know. Even if they were, there are no Mt. Rainier compliant operating systems.

It's going to be interesting to see what the market decides. DVD-R and DVD+R are so similar technically that there's really no need for both. The same is true of DVD-RW and DVD+RW. What's in question here isn't so much the technical aspects of the formats as the desire of the patent holders to grab the revenue streams that will result if their formats win. Rationally, any DVD-R drive should also write DVD+RW (and vice versa), and any DVD-RW drive should also write DVD+RW (and vice versa). Given that the DVD+R(W) supporters are also DVD Forum members, I suspect we'll see the DVD-R(+R) and the DVD-RW(+RW) formats merge. That leaves DVD-RAM, also backed by the DVD Forum, as the clear choice for data drives.

The only reason combo DVD-RAM/R/+R/RW/+RW haven't appeared is the additional cost of adding DVD-RAM support. That actually costs a maker $20 or so, which translates to a $75 bump in retail price. As drive volumes start increasing, that differential is likely to drop substantially. A quick look at Directron's DVD burner page (and the prices they show) is illustrative.

13:04 - More on writable DVD:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: James Chamier's DVD Message
Date: Tue, 14 Jan 2003 11:40:04 -0600
From: Michael Hipp
To: Robert Bruce Thompson


Mr. Chamier makes lots of good points and I thoroughly enjoyed his detailed explanation. But on one point I've got to take exception:

" DVD-RAM does not have enough capacity to replace backup systems in data centers, so I'll agree it's a great consumer backup product. "

He seems to believe that the world consists only of "consumers" and enterprises big enough to have a "data center". What he is totally ignoring is everything in-between from the SOHO to the medium-sized business that doesn't quite have anything worthy of being called a data center. These out-number the fortune 1000 by many times and all of them have gigabytes of data to backup. And tape is a good medium only for the very largest data centers that can afford the really good equipment and full-time staff.

"The rest of us" need DVD to do backups and archiving on. We've long since outgrown CD-xx as a backup medium.

Michael Hipp
Hipp & Associates

As I've said repeatedly, I don't consider any optical media a good choice for backing up (as opposed to archiving). The primary reason for that is reliability, which ranges from ranges from one to several orders of magnitude higher for tape than for hard drives, and higher still compared to optical drives. For example, a typical hard drive might generate one unrecoverable bit error per 10e14 bits. Tape drives are typically rated for one unrecoverable bit error per 10e15 to 10e19 bits. Typical optical drives have error rates around 10e12, which makes them 100 times more likely than hard drives to generate unrecoverable bit errors, and from 1,000 to 10,000,000 times more likely than tape drives.

For archiving, the higher bit error rate of optical may be acceptable. If not, the best solution is usually just to pull two copies of the data from the original source (as opposed to duping the first optical copy). For backing up current working data, the higher reliability of tape is almost always worth the cost to a business of whatever size, if they compare the cost of keeping good backups with the true potential cost of not having good backups.

For individuals and businesses operating on very tight budgets, optical may be a good choice for backup, particularly if they replicate the backups from the source. As you say, many small businesses can fit their critical data on a 4.7 GB DVD-RAM cartridge, or even on a 700 MB CD-R disc. For them, optical backup (duly replicated) may be a reasonable choice.

13:20 - Well, I said a few months ago that I thought Mandrake was in bad trouble, and a three weeks ago that I didn't expect Mandrake to be around this time next year. The Register just posted an article that says it's likely Mandrake will file for the French equivalent of Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. That's a shame, but it's not really surprising. Although Chapter 11 is for re-organization as opposed to liquidation, I don't see how Mandrake will be able to reorganize successfully. My guess is that sooner rather than later they'll end up in Chapter 7 liquidation, with what assets they have going at fire-sale prices. One of those assets is their control center software, which I hope Red Hat grabs.



Wednesday, 15 January 2003

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9:43 - Yesterday, I spent some time playing with DVD-RAM under Red Hat Linux 8.0. What fun. I installed an ATAPI DVD-RAM drive as the Secondary Slave in my RH8 box. The good news is that Red Hat recognized the drive was present when I rebooted. The bad news is that it recognized it as hdd and as just another CD-ROM drive. I changed to /proc/sys/dev/cdrom and cat'd info, which tells me that Linux knows this is a DVD-RAM drive, but it's not going to access the device as a DVD drive, let alone as a DVD writer, until I do some more work on it.

So I'll be working with Linux and DVD writing today. This afternoon, Barbara and I will head for the library, pick up dinner for my mother and visit her, meet our friends for dinner at a little diner we like, and then head off to the Forsyth Astronomical Society meeting.

This from Svenson:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: tape - CD
Date: Wed, 15 Jan 2003 09:39:29 +0100
From: Swijsen J
To: thompson@ttgnet.com

<quote> ...Tape drives are typically rated for one unrecoverable bit error per 10e15 to 10e19 bits.... </quote>

Are the error rates you mention errors occuring while writing the media or while they lay 'in storage' (occuring after writing) ?

Kind regards,
Jan Swijsen.

Media reliability is certainly an issue with tape, as it is for all magnetic media. That's why I recommend tape for backing up, but not for archiving. Glass-house mainframe operations do archive to tape, but they refresh those tapes every year or so. In standard PC/server environments, tape simply isn't reliable enough for archiving. Tape drive and tape manufacturers tell me that DDS tapes should be reliably readable for at least two years after they are written, but I've never seen any reason to put that to the test. I use tape for rotating backups and CD-R/DVD-RAM (replicated) for archiving.



Thursday, 16 January 2003

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10:13 - Mozilla scared the hell out of me yesterday. Mozilla Mail is fine. It doesn't have all the features of Outlook Mail, but I can live with its feature set, and in fact I find myself preferring Mozilla Main in some respects. The one thing I really miss about Outlook is the integrated PIM. The Mozilla crew is working on Calendar, and I'd made a couple of half-hearted attempts to install it, both of which failed.

The problem is that Calendar isn't a downloadable Setup file like Mozilla. The only way to install Calendar (other than building it from the sources) is to click on an active link on the Mozilla Calendar page from within version 1.2 or higher of the Mozilla browser. In theory, the Calendar plug-in or whatever they call it downloads and installs itself.

When I tried installing Calendar in the past, nothing much would happen when I clicked on the link. I'd assumed that it was a problem with WebWasher or Norton Internet Security intercepting the scripts or something. So yesterday I disabled all that stuff and tried again. No joy. For some reason, I finally remembered that there was a check box in Mozilla preferences called "Enable software installation", which I'd cleared when I set up Mozilla. So I marked that check box and tried again to install Calendar. This time, it worked.

When I fired up Calendar, I wasn't at all surprised to see that it is very feature-poor compared to Outlook. This is, after all, alpha software for which the feature set isn't anywhere near complete. But it looked as though the basics were all there, so I decided to start using it despite the warnings about it being crash-prone alpha software. While I was playing with Calendar, I made the mistake of entering a task and then deleting it. Up popped the Netscape dialog to tell me the app had crashed. Oh, well.

But that reminded me of one thing I really don't like about Mozilla. I frequently have lots and lots of Mozilla windows minimized on my task bar. Some of those have only one page loaded, but many have multiple tabs loaded. If you check Task Manager, you'll find that Mozilla is a single process. When anything in Mozilla crashes, it takes down all of Mozilla. So when Calendar crashed, it took all of my Mozilla windows with it. That was annoying, certainly, but it wasn't the worst part.

When I fired up the browser again, it came up normally. But then I fired up Mozilla Mail, and it came up anything but normally. Instead of my normal folder structure, with bunches of folders (some of which contain hundreds or thousands of messages) Mozilla displayed a bare tree. The little folder icons were missing entirely. The only things in the folder list were folder names with lines connecting them. That was bad enough, but what was truly horrifying was that only the default folders were present. All my accounts with all of their subfolders were missing.

After clutching my chest, I closed Mozilla completely, used Task Manager to make sure Mozilla.exe wasn't showing in the processes list, and fired up Explorer to check the folder/file structure on disk. All of them were there and appeared to have sane file sizes. I was very relieved that Mozilla hadn't munched my data. So I fired up Mozilla Mail. Same bare folder structure. Hmmm.

At that point, I figured Mozilla had somehow trashed some kind of index file or something that contained the folder layouts. I'd done a quick xcopy backup immediately before installing Calendar, so worst case I knew I hadn't lost anything except a few spams. I was about to xcopy all my backup data back into the working folders, when I decided to give it one last shot. So I rebooted the system. After logging in, I fired up Mozilla Mail again, and there all my folders were. I checked some stuff randomly and nothing appears lost or corrupted.

That's obviously good news, but the bad news is that I'm apparently stuck with Calendar. I can't see any way to remove it short of uninstalling all of Mozilla and then re-installing. That's something I'd rather not do. At this point, I've decided I just won't use Calendar and I'll hope that having it installed won't do any damage if I don't run it. If you want to play with Mozilla Calendar, I recommend you do it on a system you don't care about. Not, I should hasten to add, that I blame Mozilla for the problem. They were quite clear about Calendar being alpha software, and I should have heeded their warnings.

This from Roland.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: MandrakeSoft files for bankruptcy.
Date: 15 Jan 2003 13:07:50 -0800
From: Roland Dobbins
To: thompson@ttgnet.com


I saw that, thanks. From what I understand, the chances of a French firm coming out of the French equivalent of Chapter 11 is almost nil, so I'm operating on the assumption that Mandrake is no more. I hope Red Hat picks up some of their software assets.

And another from Holden Aust, which is really a continuation of a private conversation. I'm publishing this one, because Holden brings up something that I want to make absolutely clear.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: SuSE Linux
Date: Wed, 15 Jan 2003 21:40:09 +0000
From: Holden Aust
To: Robert Bruce Thompson <thompson@ttgnet.com>


You make a good point. It certainly makes sense for you to get up to speed in Red Hat before trying other distributions.

My only concern is that it appears that many of your readers, of both your books and your websites, take your word as "gospel" and, if they get the impression - whether correctly or not - that you think that the only Linux to use is Red Hat, I think that would be unfortunate for several reasons.

One of the real advantages of Linux is that there is considerable competition between the various distributions of Linux and that is one of the reasons that the pace of development is so rapid in Linux.

I remember when Caldera introduced the first GUI installer, when all the other distros were using character-based installers. Several of the character-based installers worked very well, but the Caldera GUI installer caused a sensation at the LinuxWorld Expo where it was introduced and it looked much more familiar and friendlier to a user used to Windows. Within six months to a year, all the major commercial distributions had developed their own GUI installers and several of them eventually surpassed the Caldera installer that had inspired them.

Seeing that rapid recognition of the clear advantage of the GUI installer and seeing how rapidly all the other major commercial distros adopted and improved upon the concept made me realize that competition in the operating system was a major advantage that Linux would benefit from.

Red Hat 4.1 was the first "packaged" version of Linux that I tried and I've tried a number of different Red Hat versions since then. The first version of SuSE that I tried was 5.0 and I've also tried Mandrake, Caldera, Corel Linux, and several other distributions but, so far, I've always ended up preferring SuSE. I haven't tried Red Hat 8.0, so I can't make direct comparisons of Red Hat 8.0 and SuSE 8.1, but I can say that every time, in the past, that I've compared the current version of Red Hat to the current version of SuSE, I've preferred SuSE.

The LSB (Linux Standard Base - SuSE, Red Hat, and all the major commercial distributions now conform to the LSB specs, I believe) and United Linux projects are important steps toward the goal of making it eventually possible to have "shrink-wrapped" Linux application software on the shelves of a computer store. And as long as these standards make it easier to switch between different distributions, we will have the advantage of the competition between the different distributions and yet still have the ability to use standard application packages with any distribution.

So, for these reasons, I encourage you to try SuSE when you get a chance and I look forward to hearing your impressions of it.

--- Holden

I certainly do intend to try SuSE eventually, but right now I have so many balls in the air that I'm trying to keep my Linux environment as simple as possible. It's true that I'm running both Red Hat 8.0 and Mandrake 9.0, but that's because when Brian Bilbrey was visiting us and setting up my border router he couldn't get Red Hat 8.0 to play nice. Or Debian either, come to that. I'm not sure if he tried SuSE or not. It was an install-fest and everything is blurred in my mind. Brian started pulling distro discs out of his magic box, and Mandrake was the first one he installed that did what we needed to do. Otherwise I'd happily be running RH 8.0 on all my Linux boxes.

The one thing you said that I wanted to comment on particularly is the "gospel" element of what I say. The Pope has two different modes. When he's speaking as an ordinary human, he's as subject to error as any of us. When he's speaking as the Pope (is that ex cathedra?), what he says is presumed to be infallible. Although I never reach the latter standard (and never expect to), there are clearly times when readers can take what I say as more nearly gospel than at other times. Linux definitely falls in the "other times" category.

Just to be absolutely clear: I am a complete Linux newbie. I don't know anything about Linux to speak of. When I express an opinion, favorable or unfavorable, about Linux, that opinion is based on my current knowledge of Linux, which is to say not much. Not that that necessarily makes my opinion any less valid. If I say that a certain aspect of Linux sucks, you can assume that from the point of view of a newbie (or at least this newbie) that aspect of Linux does indeed suck. It's a mistake to discount the opinions of people who are ignorant about a product if ignorance is the status of the vast majority of people who might consider using that product.

I try to avoid making absolute statements about Linux in the form of "Linux can't do" such-and-such. If I do happen to phrase a criticism that way, please take it as verbal shorthand. I don't really mean "Linux can't do" whatever. I mean that I can't figure out how to make Linux do whatever it is I'm trying to make it do, or that in my opinion most newbies will find it difficult or impossible to make Linux do whatever. In short, everything I write is from the viewpoint of an ignorant newbie. My opinions are valid in the sense that other newbies will very likely react in the same way I do.

As far as a choice of distribution, I'll say right up front that although I chose Red Hat I make no representation that Red Hat is the "best" distribution (if there can really be any such thing in isolation, which I doubt). I don't even represent that Red Hat is the best choice for newbies like me. I chose Red Hat as my initial distribution based on advice from people like (alphabetically) Brian Bilbrey, Roland Dobbins, Greg Lincoln, and Tom Syroid. The consensus seemed to be that Red Hat was a good choice for me to get started with. Most of those guys use other distributions like Gentoo or Debian themselves, but they're smart enough to realize that what's best for them isn't necessarily what would be best for me. Red Hat was at the top or very high in all of their recommendations, so Red Hat is what I picked. A year or two from now, I may well be using Gentoo, Debian, SuSE, or one of the other distributions favored by many Linux experts. But for now I'm happy with Red Hat.

No one should take my choice of Red Hat as gospel in any sense. I think it's a pretty good distribution, but then I haven't enough experience with other distributions to judge fairly. All I can say is that Red Hat doesn't suck, and that I think anyone getting started with Linux will probably be reasonably happy with it.



Friday, 17 January 2003

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10:31 - Mozilla scared the hell out of me again yesterday. This time I was afraid it'd lost my mail data. It started ordinarily enough. I was downloading mail on my den system. One or two messages were filtered into my trash folder, from which I deleted them. I next went to look at one of my mailing list folders, which had three or four new messages in it. When I highlighted the first message, instead of displaying that message the preview pane displayed one of the trash messages I'd already deleted. The other two or three new messages behaved the same way. The sender, subject, and so on in the message pane were correct, but the preview pane showed the contents of a trashed and deleted spam message. I double-clicked one of the new messages, hoping that the full-screen message display would show the correct data, but it showed the headers and contents of the deleted spam message.

So I went out and used Notepad to look at the inbox file. It was 326 KB, and because I'd not compressed it recently it contained all of the deleted spams and the new messages in my mailing list folder. None of those were important, so I fired up Mozilla Mail again and told it to compress my Inbox. Doing that magically made all of the deleted messages appear in it, including ones that had been deleted by Mozilla Mail when it moved incoming messages to another folder and those I'd deleted manually. I looked in the mailing list folder, and the three or four new messages were still screwed up. So I compressed that folder as well, but it didn't accomplish anything I could see.

I went back to Inbox and deleted all of the messages in it. I then deleted all of the messages in Trash and compressed both Inbox and Trash. No messages magically appeared in either, so I was hoping the problem was solved. I closed Mozilla Mail and looked at the Inbox file on disk. It was still 326 KB, and still contained a bunch of older and newer messages. I fired up Mozilla Mail and tried compressing again. The file remained at 326 KB.

I was thinking about deleting the inbox.msf file, hoping that Mozilla Mail would re-index when I restarted it, but before I did that I decided to try closing Mozilla completely. That was a pain in the butt, because I had 15 or so Mozilla Browser windows open, including many that had multiple tabs. So I maximized all of those, closed the windows that didn't matter, and bookmarked the ones that did. After closing all of the Mozilla windows as well as Quick Launch, I fired Mozilla Mail back up again. It appeared to be operating normally, so I compressed the Inbox and Trash folders. Checking their sizes on disk, I found that they were both 0 KB, as they should have been.

I guess the moral here is that Mozilla sometimes loses its mind, and when it does the best solution is to close it out completely. I'd also reboot the system just on general principles. But the good news is that it doesn't appear that Mozilla Mail actually lost any of my data.

13:50 - This from Dave Griffin:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Computer throws a hissy fit
Date: Fri, 17 Jan 2003 10:33:28 -0800 (PST)
From: David L. Griffin
To: Jerry Pournelle, Robert Bruce Thompson, Tom Syroid, Dave Farquhar

Here's an unusual failure mode.



I guess Intel isn't the only thing Inside.

And I just forwarded this press release to subscribers. I don't usually post press releases, but this one is safety-related.

American Power Conversion Voluntarily Recalls Two Uninterruptible Power Supply Models

WEST KINGSTON, R.I. -- January 14, 2003 -- American Power Conversion (Nasdaq: APCC) (APC), in cooperation with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, today announced a voluntary recall of two models in its Back-UPS® CS uninterruptible power supply (UPS) line due to potential safety issues that may result in overheating and represent a potential fire hazard. The total number of affected devices being recalled worldwide is approximately 2.1 million with approximately 900,000 devices recalled in the United States.

APC has received eight reports worldwide of units overheating resulting in the melting of the unit's outer casing, six of which occurred in the United States. Three of the reported incidents resulted in minor property damage. No injuries have been reported.

The recall is limited to two specific models in APC's Back-UPS CS product line - the Back-UPS CS 350 and the Back-UPS CS 500, in both 120-volt and 230-volt models. The affected units were manufactured between November 2000 and December 2002. The units were sold primarily through computer and electrical distribution, catalog and retail outlets worldwide.
Consumers with affected units can identify them by the model markings on the front of the unit and by the serial numbers located on the bottom of the unit. Only units with serial numbers having the first six characters in the following ranges are affected:

AB0048 through AB0251

BB0104 through BB0251

JB0125 through JB0251

Any units with an "R" at the end of the serial number are not part of the recall.

APC recommends that the user immediately remove the UPS unit from service by turning off all connected equipment, turning the UPS unit off, and then unplugging the unit from the electrical outlet.

To learn more about the recall action and the process for replacing the affected units, users should visit www.apc.com or call 866 APC-RELY (866 272-7359).

APC has been working closely with the Consumer Product Safety Commission and other appropriate parties in this action, which does not affect any other APC devices.

"We remain highly confident in the overall safety and reliability of all of our products, and have been working diligently to ensure that this action results in a minimum inconvenience to our customers and channel partners," said Rodger B. Dowdell, Jr., APC president and CEO.

Safe Harbor Provision
This press release contains forward-looking statements as that term is defined in the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. All statements in this press release that do not describe historical facts, such as statements concerning the Company's future plans or prospects and those contained in the "Business Outlook" section of the press release, are forward-looking statements. All forward-looking statements are not guarantees and are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ from those projected. The factors that could cause actual results to differ materially include the following: costs incurred by the Company for the product recall are greater than or less than currently anticipated; actual audited fourth quarter 2002 results may differ from those currently anticipated; impact on order management and fulfillment, financial reporting and supply chain management processes as a result of the Company's reliance on a variety of computer systems, including Oracle 11i which was implemented in the first quarter 2001; the impact on demand, component availability and pricing, and logistics, and the disruption of Asian manufacturing operations that result from labor disputes, war, acts of terrorism or political instability; ramp up, expansion and rationalization of global manufacturing capacity; the discovery of a latent defect in any of the Company's products; the Company's ability to effectively align operating expenses and production capacity with the current demand environment; general worldwide economic conditions, and, in particular, the possibility that the PC and related markets decline more dramatically than currently anticipated; growth rates in the power protection industry and related industries, including but not limited to the PC, server, networking, telecommunications and enterprise hardware industries; competitive factors and pricing pressures; product mix changes and the potential negative impact on gross margins from such changes; changes in the seasonality of demand patterns; inventory risks due to shifts in market demand; component constraints, shortages and quality; risk of nonpayment of accounts receivable; the uncertainty of the litigation process including risk of an unexpected, unfavorable result of current or future litigation; and the risks described from time to time in the Company's filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Company cautions readers not to place undue reliance on any such forward-looking statements, which speak only as of the date they are made. The Company disclaims any obligation to publicly update or revise any such statements to reflect any change in Company expectations or in events, conditions, or circumstances on which any such statements may be based, or that may affect the likelihood that actual results will differ from those set forth in the forward-looking statements.

About American Power Conversion

Founded in 1981, American Power Conversion (Nasdaq: APCC) (APC) is a leading provider of global, end-to-end infrastructure availability solutions. APC's comprehensive products and services offering, which is designed for both home and corporate environments, improves the availability, manageability and performance of sensitive electronic, network, communication and industrial equipment of all sizes. APC, which is headquartered in West Kingston, Rhode Island, reported sales of $1.4 billion for the year ended December 31, 2001 and is a Fortune 1000 and S&P 500 company. All trademarks are the property of their owners.

Additional information about APC and its global end-to-end solutions can be found at www.apc.com or by calling 800-877-4080.
# # #

15:50 - Tonight there's a triple transit of Jupiter, which is a fairly rare event. All of the Galilean satellites except Ganymede will be transiting Jupiter's disk at the same time. The event starts just before 7:00 p.m. local time, when Europa creeps onto the disk of Jupiter, joining Io and Callisto. Alas, at that time Jupiter is only about 1° above the horizon, so we have no chance to see it. I wish we were at the beach, which'd give us both a zero-degree eastern horizon and Jupiter being a bit higher in the sky. We'll probably observe what we can from our front yard as soon as Jupiter clears the trees. I hope that'll happen by 7:30 or so.

2003-1-17-19h00m.jpg (30573 bytes)
19:00 local

By 8:00 p.m. local, the event is nearly over. Io has overtaken Callisto, and both have nearly finished their transits of Jupiter's disk.

2003-1-17-20h00m.jpg (30393 bytes)
20:00 local

By 8:15 p.m. local, Io has completed its transit, and Callisto is approaching the edge of Jupiter's disk. Within the next few minutes, Callisto will complete its transit, and only Europa will remain in transit.

2003-1-17-20h15m.jpg (30722 bytes)
20:15 local

We could drive up to Bullington or another of our regular observing locations, but it's probably not worth the trip. Jupiter is so bright that light pollution doesn't affect it, and we'll be able to see as much from our front yard right under a streetlight as we'd be able to see from a dark-sky site. Also, the weather is a factor. It'll be about 20° F (-7° C) this evening, and there is to be a breeze. The wind chill will probably be down in the lower teens or single digits Fahrenheit, so having a nice warm house to duck into to warm up is a not insignificant advantage.

Those of you to the west of us are out of luck. By the time Jupiter rises the event will be over. Those in Europe are fortunate. In London, for example, at midnight local time (0:00 GMT/UCT), Jupiter is at about 50° altitude when the show starts. Of course, by midnight our time Jupiter will also be at about 50° altitude, but by then the show will have been over for hours.



Saturday, 18 January 2003

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10:40 - The triple transit of Jupiter last night was pretty much a bust for us. Steve Childers came over shortly after 7:00 p.m. and we headed off down the street to find somewhere that Jupiter was visible. We found a good location right at the curb a couple houses down from us and set up our refractors about 7:30 p.m. We could see Jupiter through a gap in the trees, but it was so low above the horizon that under magnification it just looked like a mush ball. We were able to make out two bands, but that was about it.

The temperature was down around 20° F (-6° C), but fortunately there was little wind so it wasn't too bad. As Io completed its transit, we were able to make it out as a bump on the edge of Jupiter before it completely separated. A little while later, we were able to do the same for Callisto. At that point, I could just barely glimpse Europa transiting Jupiter about dead center in Jupiter's disk.

If we'd been even an hour of longitude east of where we were, the show would probably have been a lot better. Folks in Europe were ideally placed to see this one. For us, Jupiter was just 1° above the horizon when the event started, and only 15° when it completed. Ordinarily, I don't bother looking at Jupiter or Saturn unless they're at least 30° altitude. When they're lower, there's simply too much air in the way. Still, it was worth a shot.



Sunday, 19 January 2003

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9:18 - Yet another cold morning. Yesterday morning when I got up it was 12° F (-11° C). This morning, it was 16° F (-9° C). I know that those of you from northern climes are snickering as you read this, but that's cold for around here. We don't have engine-block heaters in our cars or R-95 insulation in our attics. Even the furnaces in many people's houses aren't designed to cope with temperatures that low. Every time we have a cold snap like this, there are tragedies. People trying to keep warm end up dying in fires or from carbon monoxide poisoning. I hope these temperatures moderate soon.

I'm doing the usual Sunday morning chores, after which I'll be off to visit my mother. Barbara has a three-day weekend, because her office is closed tomorrow for the MLK holiday. She's been on the dead run lately from 6:30 in the morning until just before bed time, so she needs a break. I'm taking it a bit easy this weekend as well.




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