Monday, 17 February 2003
10:19 - Snow day. We didn't get nailed like those to the northeast of us, but we do have a couple inches of sleet and ice on the ground. When I went out this morning to get the paper (I was surprised it was delivered), it looked as though we had a couple inches of snow cover. But when I stepped on it, I didn't leave any footprints. Not good. The morning commute is likely to be a mess. Barbara decided to stay home from work today, which relieved me.
We were lucky not to have lost power. All day yesterday, with freezing rain falling and 15 to 25 MPH winds, we were expecting the lights to go out. The morning paper said there had been limited outages, with only about 50,000 homes having lost power throughout the region. Compared to the December ice storm, when 2,000,000 homes in North Carolina lost power, that's not bad at all. I'm sure there were more power outages after press time, but even so this area appears to have been lucky.
We had originally planned to spend the holiday weekend visiting our friends the Bilbreys up in Washington, DC. It's just as well we had to cancel that for other reasons. The news reports say they got up to 25" of snow up there.
I have to decide what to do this year about tax preparation software. One thing is sure. Intuit will never get any more money from me. When I bought TurboTax last year I didn't realize it would be the last time ever that I bought the product. I almost gave up on TurboTax several years ago. That time, I bought it on-line directly from Intuit, after carefully checking system requirements. They listed Windows NT4 as supported, but when I paid for and downloaded TurboTax, I found that it wouldn't install on NT4. I sent a nastygram to tech support, and their answer was something like, "Oh, yeah. It doesn't run on NT. We really should update the page on our site that claims it does." Grrrrr. They did at least refund my money. After looking at alternatives that year, I decided that I didn't have any real choice, so I ended up building a Windows 9X system especially to run TurboTax and then running over to Office Depot to buy a copy.
But this time Intuit has gone too far. Even mainstream publications, which have advertising money at stake, have raised a red flag about TurboTax this year. See here and here, for example. All of the mainstream publications try to be "fair" by pointing out that Intuit is making changes to eliminate the worst problems. But that ignores the real problem, which is fundamental. Copy-protecting a tax preparation program in any fashion is simply unacceptable. Period.
Intuit really shot itself in the foot. They apparently assumed that because many people grudgingly accept the product activation and Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) features in Windows XP and Office XP they would be willing to accept the same limitations in TurboTax. What Intuit failed to realize is that most people have no realistic alternative to using Microsoft products. The same is not true for TurboTax. There are at least two mainstream competitors to TurboTax. In terms of features and functionality, neither is as good as TurboTax. But TaxCut imports old TurboTax data, and is probably what I'll go with.
Tuesday, 18 February 2003
11:10 - Ximian Evolution is one of those applications that I really, really want to like. I'm almost desperate to like it. It looks much like Microsoft Outlook, and has some of the same functionality. In particular, it includes an integrated PIM. But Evolution, like many of the OSS applications I try to run on Linux (and some, like Mozilla, even on Windows) seems crash-prone.
I'd used Ximian Red Carpet a couple days ago to make sure my Red Hat 8.0 system, including Evolution, was completely up to date. Yesterday, I fired up Evolution to play with it a bit. No applications other than Evolution and a couple of terminal windows were running. I recall exactly what I did:
At that point, after literally a full two minutes or more, the error message below finally popped up. Evolution died, but it sure took it long enough.
This is not the first time Evolution has crashed on me. In the pre-1.0 versions it crashed extremely frequently. In the 1.0.3, it crashed very frequently. In 1.0.8, it crashed frequently. I've just started playing with 1.2.2, and it's already crashed, without me even doing anything. This doesn't bode well. My use of Evolution has been very limited, mainly just playing around. I'd estimate it crashes and burns more than once per hour of usage. That's simply ridiculous. These crashes have occurred on several different systems, all of which are stable hardware-wise and seem stable with Linux and most other Linux applications. Evolution has crashed under Red Hat 7.2, 7.3, and 8.0, not to mention the 8.0 beta. It's crashed under Mandrake 8.1 and 9.0. These crashes frequently occur with default installs, when the only change I've made is to enter my mailserver information.
As far as I can see, Evolution is pre-Alpha quality software. I don't intend to use it again until it's a lot more stable. Mozilla does crash occasionally (so far, always under Windows), but in general it's much more stable. Mozilla Mail doesn't have the integrated PIM, but I've been living without that for months now anyway, so I think I'll standardize on Mozilla Mail under Linux.
And speaking of Linux crashes, I awoke this morning to find that my entire network had fallen over. I couldn't get to email or the web from my den system, and soon found that I couldn't even access Windows Networking shares on other local systems. My first thought was that my hub had shot craps, but when I went into my office it was lit up normally. I switched the KVM over to the Mandrake 9 Linux box that is my gateway/firewall, and found there was no video signal. It had locked up again. This is beginning to annoy me.
I don't blame Linux. When Brian Bilbrey was visiting here last, he offered to set up a Linux gateway/firewall machine. At first I thought I'd just have him use the existing NT4 box that was running WinGate, but then I decided I'd rather keep that machine unplugged but available in case I had problems with the new gateway. That meant coming up with another machine, and the only convenient one sitting around was my former den system, a 750 MHz Duron box. Silly me. I decided to take a chance on it, even though it had had some stability problems under Windows 2000. The box has a decent power supply and decent memory, so that's not the problem. What I suspect is the problem is the motherboard, which uses a VIA chipset.
I've never had a VIA-based system that I considered to be in even remotely the same class stability-wise as systems that use Intel, AMD, or nVIDIA chipsets. Heck, even the SiS735-based motherboards are a lot more stable than VIA-based motherboards. Every time I've used a VIA-based system, I've later regretted it. Perhaps their newest chipsets are better, but I'm tired of being a guinea pig. At this point, I'm ready just to write off VIA entirely.
I think what I'll do is build a nice, stable Intel 815-based system, using an older Pentium III, a good power supply, and Crucial memory. The next time Brian visits, or the next time we go up to visit them, I'll sweet-talk Brian into building me a new gateway/firewall on a box with known-good hardware. In the meantime, this VIA-based box is living on borrowed time. If it crashes too many more times, I may just improve its ventilation with 12 gauge rifled slugs.
Tom's Hardware has posted a fascinating article that benchmarks 65 processors, from the 100 MHz Pentium to the 3.06 GHz Pentium 4. The fastest processors we have around here are the 2.53 GHz and 2.8 GHz Pentium 4s and the Athlon XP 2600+, all of which are very near the top of Tom's charts. But we also have slower systems, including Barbara's main system (a 1 GHz PIII/Coppermine), my den system (a 750 MHz PIII/Coppermine), and the Gott verdammt 750 MHz Duron system that runs my gateway/firewall. All of those are fast enough for what they do, which is of course the main burden on Intel and AMD right now. It's pretty hard to sell your most expensive, fastest processors when your least expensive, slowest processors are fast enough to do the job.
This with regard to importing Turbo Tax data:
Thanks. I will keep that in mind.
And some Linux-related mail...
Thanks. Not what I wanted, especially. I'm actually pretty happy with the standard Red Hat 8.0 interface. But this is one of the things that Linux needs to reach critical mass with Windows desktop users. I haven't looked at anything but the screenshots, but if this is as close to Windows XP as it appears to be, I think it'd be a good idea for Red Hat and the other Linux distros to include it as a setup option--"Make my desktop look just like Windows XP".
Wednesday, 19 February 2003
10:37 - It seems the Laci Peterson case may be coming to a head. From the first, it's been pretty clear that the cops suspect that her husband, Scott, murdered her. They're probably right. They usually are. But it's also been pretty clear that they don't have sufficient evidence to arrest and charge Scott Peterson. Ask any cop and you'll learn that quite often the cops know with absolute certainty who did something, but can't prove it. When that's the case, I don't doubt that 99.99% of the time the cops have it right.
What I don't like about this case is that the cops appear to be harassing Scott Peterson, who is after all presumed innocent until proven guilty. I suspect they're frustrated. They "know" he did it, but they can't find enough evidence to bring charges. I sympathize with them, and with Laci Peterson's family, but the rules of evidence are there for good reason. Although the cops insist that Peterson is not a suspect, that is simply a cynical workaround. If Scott Peterson were a suspect, the rules change, making things more difficult for the cops. So they insist he is not a suspect despite the fact that he clearly is not just a suspect, but probably their only suspect.
But what is going on is harassment, pure and simple. They confiscated the truck Scott Peterson owned at the time Laci Peterson disappeared. Fine. It was right for them to do that. They needed to run forensic tests. But having run those forensic tests, they should either have returned the truck, which Scott Peterson needs to earn his living, or they should have charged him. They did neither. Scott Peterson later sold Laci Peterson's SUV in order to buy a replacement for the truck the police had confiscated. He bought that truck five weeks after Laci's disappearance, and now the police have confiscated that truck as well. On what basis? Do they really believe that Scott Peterson used that truck to move Laci Peterson's body five weeks after the fact? Or are they simply harassing Scott Peterson, attempting to prevent him from earning a living? This really stinks.
Either charge Scott Peterson or stop harassing him. It's almost certain that Laci Peterson is dead and buried in an unmarked grave. I'm willing to believe that Scott Peterson probably killed her. But the burden of proof is on the state to prove Peterson guilty, not on Peterson to prove himself innocent. This harassment needs to stop, and it needs to stop right now.
Someone asked me the other day if I was changing my prediction for the commencement of hostilities with Iraq. Despite all the protests and diplomatic maneuvering over the last couple of weeks, I'm going to stick with my original prediction that the air campaign will begin 22 February and the ground campaign during the new moon a week later. If I'm wrong, I suspect it'll be by only a month. The next good opportunity will be the week or so leading up to the new moon on 1 April. Whether the attack commences in late February or late March has less to do with anti-war protests and diplomatic blathering than with the state of military preparation. A month from now, the French will still be sanctimoniously gumming things up, and not much else will have changed. If the US does wait a month, they will do so simply in the hopes they can isolate the French diplomatically and get a UN mandate for war with Iraq. I think the chances of that happening are very small, and I suspect the US realizes that. If our forces are ready, and I think they are, the time to start the ball rolling is now, not later.
14:07 - FoxNews reports that a German court has sentenced Mohamed Atta to 15 years. Let's see. He was instrumental in killing more than 3,000 people. That comes to less than 44 hours for each person he killed. Sounds reasonable to me. I can think of quite a number of people I'd be happy to kill if the penalty were only 44 hours each. Spammers in particular would no longer be safe. I'd be willing to devote 44 hours a month to rid the world of spammers. Well, perhaps that's a bit much. Say 44 hours a quarter. Still, that means I could shoot four spammers dead every year. If thousands of others were willing to make the same sacrifice, we'd soon have no spammers. A caution, though. If you decide to start killing spammers, make sure to do it in Germany. Most countries have more civilized laws.
Perhaps Germany should reconsider. They did sentence him to the maximum possible term, although that must seem incredibly short to any reasonable person. Hanging the bastard slowly would have been nice, but I understand that many people are too squeamish to kill any human, even such slime as has forfeited its right to be called human. Of course, Germans are understandably reluctant to use the term "sub-human", even when, as in this case, it is fully justified. But it does seem the least they could have done was sentence him to 15 years ON EACH COUNT. A 45,000-year sentence would have seemed a lot more reasonable to most people, even though he'd have been eligible for early release in only 22,500 years.
14:52 - Wired has an interesting article entitled Segway's Breakdown. They carefully don't say that Segway is doomed, but it sure sounds that way to me. The article quotes an estimate that the Segway factory was producing ten units a week in late 2002. If true, that's pretty pathetic for a company that received something like $90 million in startup funding. Kamen hoped to sell these things by the millions, but from what the article says no large volume sales have materialized, nor are any likely to. The downturn in the economy means that the companies Kamen hoped would buy large numbers of Segways are at best buying a few samples here and there. Kamen has been forced to retarget the Segway at consumers, who are unlikely to buy a $5,000 scooter. Even if the economy hadn't tanked, I think the Segway was stillborn. It was a stupid idea in the first place. With the economy in the toilet, it seems to me that Segway will never become more than a curiosity for those with more money than sense.
10:34 - The one thing that really worries me about the coming war with Iraq is the aftermath. The US needs to stop fighting wars at a loss, putting the burden on the US taxpayer. If the US is to be a proper empire, we need to make wars profitable, which means the US must occupy Iraq long-term and extract sufficient wealth to pay the direct and indirect costs of the war as well as to make a reasonable profit.
Assuming that the value of Iraqi oil once it is under our control is $1 per barrel, that means the US needs to pump something like 100 billion barrels of oil. If I recall correctly, current US consumption is about 20 million barrels per day, about half of which is domestic and half imported. That means a billion barrels covers our total consumption for about 50 days, so 100 billion barrels would be sufficient for our needs at current consumption levels for something over 13 years. During that period, we can leave our own oil in the ground, for future use as feedstocks, and develop such things as space-based power sources.
Off the top of my head, I'm not sure what the Iraqi reserves are, but if we run short we can simply invade and occupy Saudi Arabia, Iran, and whatever other Islamic nations are our enemies and have oil reserves. We'll already have Kuwait, of course, unless we're stupid enough to give it up. But one way or another, we need to make this whole mess pay big-time. The goal of this war and its follow-ons should be the largest transfer of wealth in history. At the same time we boost the standard of living of US citizens, we should ensure that our Islamic enemies are reduced to penury. For the next thousand years, our enemies should have to scratch out a living by subsistence farming. Those that remain alive, of course, which I hope are not numerous.
Holden Aust sends the following, which points out that I made a mistake in my tirade yesterday. I'm pretty sure I read the news report correctly, so perhaps the error was theirs.
Now that you mention it, I do recall the name Mounir el Motassadeq from other news reports, but I'm pretty sure Atta was the name they gave in the story. Yep, I just checked the link, and they've changed the story. I remember doing a copy-paste of the name from the first paragraph of the story, which no longer has Atta's name in it.
As far as the Linux system, that's great news, and one more brick in the wall. As far as desktop Linux, my opinion is that it's not quite here yet for the masses as a Windows-killer. In particular, the applications need to be better, but they're making progress. My guess is that Red Hat 9.0 will also be not-quite-here, but Red Hat 10.0 or 11.0 will be a true Windows killer. The same will be true for comparable releases of other Linux distros, of course.
Before anyone sends flames, I know that Linux is very much "here" for people willing to make the effort. I count myself among that group, but of course 99% of the computing public isn't willing to make any effort at all. For Linux to reach critical mass (and I mean that in the literal sense of generating a self-sustaining chain reaction that throws off enough high-energy Linuxtrons to cause every Windows-235 atom world-wide to fission), a few more elements need to be in place. Once those elements are in place, Windows will self-destruct. Of course, as everyone knows, Windows-235 atoms are inherently very unstable, which will make things easier.
I think what a lot of Linux advocates fail to realize is that bringing in Joe Sixpack is critical to Linux dominating the desktop. As more and more Windows desktops explode and are replaced by shiny new Linux desktops, applications vendors that currently have no Linux offerings will be forced to produce Linux versions. With that, many of the current barriers to Linux go away. We've progressed from "Linux doesn't have any applications" to "Linux has all the applications I need except ...". Well, when that "except" goes away, so does the need for Windows. When Photoshop for Linux ships, that kills a lot of people's objection to Linux on the desktop. Same thing for many other applications, both horizontal and vertical. The day that Microsoft ships Office for Linux, which I think will happen eventually, is the day that Windows loses the war.
And this follow-up:
Dunno. My attitude is that when we catch one of the terrorists, we should hang, draw, and quarter him. Perhaps if one of them is particularly helpful we could offer a plea bargain something on the order of "if you tell us useful things, we'll simply shoot you instead of torturing you first."
13:54 - Here's how much of a Linux newbie I am. Things getting immensely more complicated when one has two Linux boxes instead of just one. I learned long ago how to use Samba to set up Windows Networking shares with Linux, so that I could for example access shared volumes on my NT4 server from Linux desktop systems. Accessing one Linux system from another Linux system was never an issue before, but now that I have more than one Linux system, it is.
With Windows Networking, if I don't have a drive mapped, I can simply use UNC syntax to access the administrative share on the remote Windows box. For example, to access drive D: on the NT4 server theodore, I can simply use \\theodore\d$. My gateway/firewall box is running Mandrake 9.0, and I wanted a screenshot of Mandrake Control Center. Getting the screenshot was no problem. I used ksnapshot and told it to save the screenshot png file in my home directory. Then came the problem. I don't have Samba set up on the Mandrake box for several reasons, and didn't want to set it up just to transfer that file. What I would have liked to have done was copy the screenshot file from the Mandrake box to my home directory on my Red Hat 8.0 box, but there was no obvious way to do that.
I solved the problem by brute force, ftp'ing the file up to rocket (my web/ftp server) and then down again. I know there's a way to transfer files between Linux boxes (duh!), but how to do it is not intuitively obvious. I'm sure someone will post instructions over on the messageboard, which I appreciate, but the real reason I'm mentioning this is just as an indication of the types of problems a Windows guy faces as he transitions to Linux. (Yes, I did play around with NFS and Samba mount points in Mandrake Control Center, but I have to be very cautious because the Mandrake box is a key production system here. Me playing around with a production Linux box is just slightly less dangerous than a monkey playing around with a machine gun.)
Geez. eBay is proud of this? I know I will never give them any more data about me than they already have. I can't believe no one has started a boycott yet. What really concerns me is PayPal. They recently sent out a notice about a new agreement. I haven't had time to compare it with the old agreement, but I'm sure if I did I wouldn't find anything that made me happy. What is wrong with these people? Is everyone going insane?
11:35 - I've been told the following was seen on eBay: "French army rifle. Never fired. Dropped once." Which wouldn't surprise me. France is a nation of cowards. France would probably fall all over itself to surrender if it were invaded by a Luxembourg traffic cop and three Girl Scouts. As someone said, it's not surprising that the French won't help kick Saddam Hussein out of Iraq because they wouldn't even help kick the Nazis out of France. Even Chirac admits it: "As far as I'm concerned, war always means failure." Well, yeah, for France it does.
Of course, there's more than just extreme cowardice operating here. France also has strong commercial ties to Iraq, and has supplied significant materiel support. France has also been a haven for terrorists. Perhaps Mr. Bush should look more closely at France with a particular eye to what France has done to support terrorism. At the very least, he should consider severing diplomatic relations with France and placing it under a trade embargo.
I just read excerpts of a statement by a spokeswoman from the French Embassy to the US. She says there's a lot of kidding in the US about France and vice versa, but that America and France are still "good friends". Yeah, right. She is obviously entirely clueless about the depth of hostility that many Americans have for France. Many Americans disliked France and all things French before this latest imbroglio. The intensity of that feeling has increased by an order of magnitude and is now much more widespread. People are boycotting French products, dumping vintage French wine in the streets, and reprinting menus to offer "Freedom Fries". This is not good-natured ribbing.
One of my friends suggested the other night that we trade national leaders. Iraq gets George Bush. The US gets Tony Blair. Britain gets Jacques Chirac. And France gets Saddam Hussein.
17:23 - Here's an interesting juxtaposition of news articles. First, CNET reports Microsoft has introduced a new Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) technology. The article says in part that "Businesses also could prevent important e-mails from being forwarded to nonapproved recipients...". FoxNews has an article entitled E-Mails Show NASA Engineer Warned of Shuttle Risk. Poor NASA. If only they'd had this new technology in place, we'd probably never have seen those emails.
Microsoft's new DRM change fundamentally changes things, and not for the better. It applies not just to email but to word processing documents and other computer files. If this technology were ever to catch on, consider the implications. No one would ever again be able to rely on electronic communications in any form. How could we? An emailed confirmation or receipt could no longer be trusted, because it could vaporize at any moment. Even if it didn't, we might not be able to copy, print, or forward it. Even if all of the restrictions on a particular document are supposedly explicit, how would we know if that were really true?
When PayPal or my domain registrar or an on-line vendor sends an email receipt, what good would it be? We might wake up any morning and find that receipt had disappeared. For that matter, how could PayPal stay in business? If I send PayPal an instruction via email to transfer money to someone else, how could they do that, knowing that my email was the only evidence that I'd authorized that transaction?
I was playing around with the Windows 2003 and Office 11 betas earlier today, when I was surprised to find I'd received an email from Bill Gates. In it, he admitted that he seldom uses Windows himself, except when he's at the office. He runs Linux on all of his personal systems at home. I tried to paste his comments on this page, but for some reason when I click Paste in FrontPage 2000 nothing happens. I guess he must have sent that email from the office.
8:31 - Despite the talk-talk in the UN and NATO, I still expected the US to kick of the Iraq air campaign yesterday. Of course, that's on the assumption that our military would want a week of air attack prior to the new moon this coming weekend. Perhaps they can do what needs to be done in a couple of days. If that's the case, they still have time to launch the ground campaign during this new moon. Otherwise, I expect they'll postpone things until the days leading up to the next new moon on 1 April.
It's apparent to me that the US is doing everything it can to prevent the UN from losing face, although I'm not sure why. It's pretty obvious to anyone by now that the UN is irrelevant, but Mr. Bush appears determined to play by the rules. I'm not sure why. In effect, he's simply letting our enemies set the rules. Jerry Pournelle talks a lot about competent empire versus incompetent empire, but I think what we're seeing here is the first steps toward reluctant empire. Despite what other nations believe, it's pretty clear that the US has no desire to run the world, although it clearly has the economic and military might necessary to do so.
I'm very much afraid that this reluctance is going to result in stupid decisions, most particularly the US shouldering nearly all of the economic and political costs of this war while claiming no plunder. At the same time, I'm afraid that the US will annoy its enemies further without dealing them a death blow. The US seems unaware, or, worse, unwilling to acknowledge, that Islam has declared war on it. Accordingly, the US is taking at best half-measures to take the war to its true enemies, which is to say all of Islam. Are we so under the sway of the thought control of Political Correctness that we can ignore the fact that the destruction of the Twin Towers was an act of war? Apparently so. It's payback time, but our leaders fail to see that. Right now, we need leaders like Winston Churchill and George Patton. Instead we're stuck with George Bush and Colin Powell. The Islamics are laughing at us.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.