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Week of 24 March 2003

Latest Update : Sunday, 30 March 2003 09:17 -0500

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Monday, 24 March 2003

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9:39 - I wonder just how much more we're going to take. As I predicted, our ridiculous concern with Iraqi civilian casualties is causing needless casualties among our own forces. Iraq is now parading captured US troops, and appears to have murdered several of them. US forces accept in good faith the surrender of Iraqis, who then turn on them and kill them. Iraqi troops dress in civilian clothing and attack US forces. The best our generals can come up with is to advise our forces to be more careful in accepting surrenders. Instead, how about issuing this order to all allied forces?

"Use extreme care in accepting the surrender of Iraqi nationals, military or civilian. Do not accept surrender by Iraqis unless you are certain that you can do so without endangering your own personnel. If in doubt, shoot first and ask questions later. If surrendering Iraqis fire on your personnel, obliterate all Iraqi military and civilian personnel and facilities within range of your weapons. If you capture armed Iraqis who are not in uniform, hang them publicly."

I also have to wonder exactly whom this so-called "shock-and-awe" campaign is designed to shock and awe. Certainly not the average Iraqi, whom it does not affect. His lights still work, as does his television and telephone. When he turns on his tap, water comes out, and when he pulls the handle on his toilet, it flushes. From the average Iraqi's viewpoint, this shock-and-awe campaign must be underwhelming. So I suppose the campaign must be designed to scare senior Iraqi military leaders into surrendering. Which is stupid, because they're exactly the last group of Iraqis who would consider surrendering. We're wasting a lot of ordnance trying to convince the inconvincible, meanwhile leaving valid targets like television broadcasting facilities, power plants, and other infrastructure targets untouched.

And so it turns out that cities like Basrah, which supposedly have surrendered, are still shooting at our forces. If we really want to shock-and-awe the Iraqis, the way to do it would be to flatten Basrah, demonstrating to the Iraqis what happens when they resist our forces. But we won't do that, because we're Politically Correct and proud of it. Jesus.

Roland Dobbins sends a link to a NY Times article, The Philosopher of Islamic Terror, with the note, "Very important Berman piece. Read it all." I agree that the article is worth reading. (free subscription required).

11:26 - Oh, yeah. If you weren't paying close attention to this article, you might have missed a potentially significant statement embedded in it. The article is about Office Depot removing "non-compliant" Windows XP products, software and hardware, from their shelves. The sub-head speculates that the reasons might be DRM-related, which may explain why the following apparently-unrelated statement was included in an earlier version of this article, but has since been removed:

"* MEANWHILE the INQUIRER has learnt that the Pentium III serial number on machines is used by most DVD burners to actually put the serial number onto the media that is being burnt. "

I have queries in to some of my industry contacts to determine whether or not this is true.

12:04 - I emailed Mike Magee of The Inquirer the material above, and we've been exchanging emails about it. With his permission, here they are:

That's fair enough Robert. Actually, I changed the story last night, and put a * by the Pentium III and changed it to DVD drives - because that was a sheer error.

Then I removed the last paragraph today because I am hunting up this very important story and want to put an important story together later in the week.

But I don't mind you querying the reasons why I do or don't do editorial like things -- sheesh! That's the web for you...

Fair enough, Mike. I almost fell out of my chair when I saw that comment embedded in the article. I thought it deserved a 72-point headline of its own. I'll let you know if I find out anything from my own sources, except of course if they tell me something in confidence. In that case, I'll just have to verify things for myself or let you do it for me.

Incidentally, may I post what you've written in this message? I think a lot of my readers might be wondering what's going on, and your comments might reassure them that you're simply withholding comment until you are sure what's going on.


Like I said, to clarify, the drives etc apparently have serial numbers that are burnt onto the CDs themselves. Pretty interesting. I'm pretty sure it's true, but chasing it up so I can do a super dooper story. But maybe I've let the cat out of the bag too early



Tuesday, 25 March 2003

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8:40 - Crunch time is here, with book deadlines and tax day fast approaching. I'll continue to update my journal page, but posts are likely to be short and sporadic until after tax day.

11:17 - With regard to the question of DVD writers burning serial numbers to disc, I've just sent the following message to Mike Magee of The Inquirer:

Just as a data point, my contact at Plextor tells me that their PX-504A DVD+R/RW drive does not burn any serial number (processor or drive) to the disc. He does note that an application could burn the processor and/or drive serial number to a disc, so I wonder if perhaps serial numbers are being burned to disc by the burning software rather than by the firmware of the drives themselves.



Wednesday, 26 March 2003

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10:27 - So now the Iraqis are shooting at us from hospitals. Civilized people do not abuse the Red Cross, either by firing on people, vehicles, or sites so marked, or by using the Red Cross falsely to protect military assets. During WWII, the US, British, Soviet, Italian, and German forces with few exceptions honored the Red Cross scrupulously. Even the SS generally honored the Red Cross.

The Japanese were the sole exception among the major combatants. In the Pacific Theatre, Allied forces quickly learned that the Japanese regarded the Red Cross as a convenient target, so our corpsmen and medics stopped wearing it. The Japanese paid for that betrayal, although not as heavily as they should have done. The Iraqis should also be held accountable. If we take fire from a hospital or other "non-combatant" site, the proper response is to level that hospital, whether or not it is marked with a Red Cross/Crescent.

Nothing in the rules of war protects those who abuse the Red Cross, use civilians as human shields, and so on. Those who engage in such abuses are held responsible, not those who fire on falsely-marked targets in response to attacks that originate from them. Nor do the rules of war protect Iraqis who wear US or UK uniforms and commit war crimes against Iraqi civilians. Any Iraqi caught wearing a US or UK uniform should be summarily shot. That is within the rules of war, and there is no need to prove that such persons have engaged in any other crime.

It is time and past time to take off the gloves and deal severely with such outrages. That we are allowing the Iraqis to dictate the terms under which this war is waged is because our leaders unrealistically hope to convince the Iraqi population to welcome us as liberators. That isn't going to happen, and our futile attempts to make it so are costing us unnecessary casualties. With regard to casualties, this war is very much a zero-sum game. Anything we do to minimize Iraqi casualties increases US and UK casualties. It is the responsibility of our leaders to minimize Allied casualties, not to protect Iraqi civilians, let alone Iraqi combatants. It is time they started doing that.

11:33 - This from my childhood friend, David Silvis, who grew up to be an ER doc.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Papal Visit
Date: Wed, 26 Mar 2003 11:29:59 EST
From: David Silvis

The Pope is visiting DC and President Bush takes him out for an afternoon on the Potomac ... sailing on the Pres. Yacht. They're admiring the sights when, all of a sudden, the Pope's hat (zucchetto) blows off his head and out into the water.

Secret service guys start to launch a boat, but Bush waves them off, saying "Wait, wait. I'll take care of this. Don't worry." Bush then steps off the yacht onto the surface of the water and walks out to the Holy Father's little hat, bends over and picks it up, then walks back to the yacht and climbs aboard. He hands the hat to the Pope amid stunned silence.

The next morning, the Washington Post carries a story, with front page photos, of the event. The banner headline is "Bush Can't Swim"





Thursday, 27 March 2003

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10:03 - I spent quite a bit of time yesterday playing with USB under Linux. The latest kernel I'm running on any of my Linux boxes is 2.4.19, which means no USB 2.0 support, but USB 1.1 devices seem to be detected properly and operate flawlessly. I'm very impressed with the USB support in Linux. Windows didn't have USB support of this quality until Windows 2000. Linux has made great strides, and continues to do so. Now if only the applications would catch up. There's progress there, too, but we don't seem to be quite there yet.

When Mandrake Linux 9.1 was released the other day, I almost made a foolish mistake. I had actually started to download the first ISO before I realized (a) that I was downloading a moribund distro from a bankrupt company, and (b) that I was downloading a moribund distro from a bankrupt French company. The last thing I need is an operating system that's likely to surrender unexpectedly, so I killed the download. Red Hat 9 is right around the corner anyway. I can wait.

I also didn't much like the two choices on the download page. If you click the "I agree to support Mandrake Linux, please send me to the Mandrake Linux Users Club Registration page" button, you're taken to a page where you give Mandrake money before you can download the software. If you click the other button, "I'm already a member of the Club or plan on registering soon, please send me to the download page", you're saying that you've already given them money or plan to do so soon. What happened to the "I haven't sent you any money and don't plan to do so, but send me to the download page anyway" button? By providing only those two choices, Mandrake is violating the spirit (although not the letter) of Open Source Software.

As it happens, I bought a boxed set of Mandrake some time ago, but that's the last money they'll ever see from me. Mandrake lost any possibility of my support when they screwed club members who had sent them money in good faith and then learned that Mandrake had reneged on their promise. I hope that Americans boycott Mandrake for both practical and patriotic reasons. Practical, because I doubt Mandrake will be around much longer, so it makes no sense to commit to their products. Patriotic, because Mandrake is just another French company.

The other weird thing about Mandrake 9.1 is that, unless I'm missing something, they are releasing a supposedly stable version that uses an unstable kernel. When I checked the feature list, I found that Mandrake 9.1 is using the 2.4.21 kernel, but as far as I know 2.4.20 is the latest stable kernel. Is Mandrake really releasing a boxed set with an unstable kernel? If so, that's very strange.

13:21 - Roland Dobbins tells me that 2.4.21 is indeed stable, as is any 2.4.X kernel. I was misled when I looked at the kernel.org web site yesterday, where it stated, "The latest stable version of the Linux kernel is: 2.4.20". I assumed that 2.4.21 was "later" than 2.4.20, and therefore "unstable". Apparently, that's wrong. The 2.4.21 kernel is indeed stable, says Roland.

It's now official. Microsoft says Windows NT 4.0 is too badly broken to ever be fixed. There is a newly exposed security flaw that Microsoft says cannot be patched for NT 4.0. Their only suggestion is to run now-vulnerable Windows NT 4.0 boxes behind a firewall. This may be the last nail in the coffin of NT 4.0. I'm sure Microsoft is glad to see it go.

Sad news this morning. I got email from my editor and friend Robert Denn at O'Reilly. He has been laid off, and apparently he is not alone. I'm not sure what exactly is going on at O'Reilly, but the bankruptcy of Wrox seems to have shaken them badly. Robert tells me that the new edition of PC Hardware in a Nutshell has been assigned to another editor, so at least for now it appears that this edition will survive.



Friday, 28 March 2003

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10:46 - Crunch time. I need to get some chapters up to my new editor. The Messier Marathon is coming up, and I'm not going to skip it, although the weather forecast isn't promising. Then I have to do the income tax returns. You won't be hearing much from me until I get past all this.

16:03 - The following is from a mailing list I subscribe to, with the subject "British Humour".

"Umm Qasr is a city similar to Southampton," UK defence minister Geoff Hoon said in The Commons yesterday.

"He's either never been to Southampton, or he's never been to Umm Qasr" says a British Squaddie patrolling Umm Qasr. he added: "There's no beer, no prostitutes and people are shooting at us. It's more like Portsmouth."



Saturday, 29 March 2003

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Sunday, 30 March 2003

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9:17 - Another important warning from Roland.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Sendmail local root, fix
Date: Sat, 29 Mar 2003 14:00:56 -0800
From: Roland Dobbins
To: Jerry Pournelle, Robert Bruce Thompson, Brian Bilbrey, Greg Lincoln

Please post ASAP, thanks!


In addition to the usual Sunday chores, we're preparing for our Messier Marathon observing trip to the Wake Forest University Lodge up on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We're not sure exactly when we'll go up. That depends on the forecast. Our friend Paul Jones has the Lodge reserved for Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday nights. Tonight is a no-go. There's eight inches of snow on the ground up there now, and the skies tonight are to be cloudy. Monday and/or Tuesday nights look possible, though. (Note to would-be burglars: one of my friends, a former SEAL, is house-sitting for us.)



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