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Week of 28 April 2003

Latest Update : Sunday, 04 May 2003 09:11 -0400


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Monday, 28 April 2003

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11:48 - Here's a shocker. If this article is correct, using thermal compound on an AMD processor voids the warranty. According to the article, AMD says that the only acceptable type of thermal bond between the die and the heatsink is a phase-change pad, those little square things that come attached to the die side of some heatsinks. The first time I saw one of those, I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. I'd always used thermal goop, and wasn't entirely sure if the pad was meant to replace the goop, supplement it, or be peeled off entirely before mounting the heatsink. I called one of my contacts at Intel, who explained phase-change media to me, and cautioned me to make sure to peel off the protective sticker before mounting the heatsink. According to the article, an AMD representative said:

For permanent installation AMD only recommends using phase change material with the heatsink/fan. No thermal grease is recommended for anything other than temporary evaluation purposes. And the only thermal grease recommended for that is Shin Etsu G 749. Artic Silver is made up of a matrix with conductive particles. There is the possibility of creating electrical shorts on the package. Any failed processor used w/ Artic Silver or any other thermal grease other than Shin Estu G 749 would be subject to warranty voiding. The concerns with other thermal greases are due to thermal pumpout causing overheating with on off cycling of the PC over time. The above information assumes you are referring to use with Athlon. For Opteron Shin Etsu G 749 also is the only thermal grease recommended for permanent installation. Again the concern is due to pumpout with thermal cycling.

Which sounds very strange to me. Thermal compounds are specifically designed to avoid pumpout at the range of temperatures over which a processor operates. Sure, pumpout might be a problem if you used Vaseline or something similar, but commercial silicone-based thermal compounds are designed to accommodate temperatures higher than those reached by processors. But then I'm not an engineer. I don't even play one on TV.

Interestingly, Intel seems to bounce back and forth between thermal compound and phase-change pads. Most of the Pentium III processors I've used came with a heatsink that included a phase-change pad. Most (maybe all) of the Pentium 4 processors I've used come with a tube of thermal compound, although some readers have told me that they've gotten retail-boxed Pentium 4 processors with phase-change pads. Perhaps the type of thermal bonding medium Intel includes differs by the type and speed of the processor, or perhaps they consider the two interchangeable.

At any rate, if you're installing an AMD processor, it'd be worth your time to read the instructions thoroughly and do exactly what they suggest.

I have an Antec SX-1030 case sitting on the kitchen table, and I'm dithering. What you see in there is (I think) an Intel D815EEA2L motherboard with a Pentium III processor (probably ~ 1 GHz) installed. There aren't any drives in the box.

new-thoth-1.jpg (72657 bytes)

I think what I'm going to do is pull that motherboard and install an Intel D845GEBV2 motherboard with a Pentium 4/2.53G processor, half a gigabyte of Crucial PC2700 DDR-SDRAM, a Plextor DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive, and a Seagate Barracuda ATA V hard drive. That's a complete system, and the embedded graphics are more than good enough for what Barbara and I do.

My major qualm is the power supply that's in there, an Antec 300W unit. It's not an ATX12V power supply. That's not a problem, because I have a couple of the PC Power & Cooling ATX12V adapters that connect to a drive power cable on one end and have an ATX12V connector on the other. What worries me is that the Antec power supply is rated for only 10A on the 12V rail.

If this were a PC Power & Cooling 300W power supply, I wouldn't worry about using it, because PC Cool power supplies are rated at 40 C. Most other power supplies (presumably including Antec, although I've never received an answer to my query on that point) are rated at 25 C. That may sound like a small difference, but it's not. A power supply rated at 450W at 25 C can typically deliver only 300W at 40 C. Considering ambient temperatures and the heat produced by the power supply itself, 40 C is a lot more realistic operating temperature than 25 C.

Still, I won't be putting all that much load on the power supply, so the Antec 300W may be okay. I think I'll build out the system and swap for the system currently in the den. That's an elderly Pentium III/750 system with 256 MB of RAM, an ATI RAGE128 All-In-Wonder video card, a 20 GB Seagate Barracuda ATA II hard drive, a 12X Plextor CD-RW drive, and an old DDS-3 tape drive (Tecmar, I think). I'll blow out all the dust bunnies, replace the hard drive with a 120 GB Seagate Barracuda ATA V, and declare that box my new Linux server.

I'll install Red Hat 9 Linux on that box and configure it as a Samba server. It will replace theodore, our current primary file server, which runs Windows NT 4 Server. I'm sure I'll break a lot of drive mappings and so on during that process, but I'll eventually get everything back to working as it should. I'm not even sure I need a domain controller. I may just set up peer-based Windows networking on my Windows clients.

Once I'm sure the new Linux server is working properly, I'll power down theodore for good and tear down that box. The current theodore is in a PC Power & Cooling mini-tower case, which I'll recycle. There's also (I think) an Adapter SCSI host adapter and a Tecmar NS20 tape drive in there, which I may or may not re-use. I'm not sure what power supply is in that box, but I have a couple of good 400W+ PC Power & Cooling power supplies if I need to replace it. That case will be the foundation of Barbara's new system. I'll have to figure out which components to use for that, but it'll probably be an Intel 865- or 875-based motherboard with a fast Pentium 4, or perhaps an ASUS A7N8X Deluxe with a fast Athlon.

I'll need to order some components before I get to work on that. I need a video adapter of some sort, so I'll probably just order a $50 Crucial RADEON 7500, which is much more than good enough for anything we do with video around here. I also need to order a couple of red-eye mice.

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Tuesday, 29 April 2003

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11:00 - Now here's a real slap on the wrist. What a deal. These companies and individuals raked in billions of dollars, and now they're being penalized millions. It's all right, though, because the only people that get screwed are the investors and employees. Well, them and the taxpayers.

It seems to me that the proper way to punish the stockbrokers, analysts, and executives that feathered their own nests by defrauding investors of billions of dollars would involve lethal injection. Not for everyone, perhaps, but for the ringleaders certainly. Ten or a hundred executions, preferably public executions, might discourage others from pulling stuff like this in the future. As to the rest, the non-ringleaders, I think financial penalties and some jail time are appropriate. The financial penalties should be sufficient to beggar those who profited from these actions. They should be fined at a level that would bankrupt them entirely and forever. The fines should clean out their securities accounts and their bank accounts, and take their homes and automobiles and retirement savings. These people should be on street corners begging for food.

In addition to fining them mercilessly, they do deserve jail time. Something reasonable, say 10 years to life, with weekly canings. And the authorities should weigh their crimes carefully when assigning cellmates. Someone named Bubba who'd keep them company in the shower would be appropriate. So who should be punished? I'd consider anyone in a true executive role (read "decision making") for capital punishment. How do you decide that? For executives within the companies affected, base it on stock options. Anyone who made more than, say, a million dollars on options from a company that subsequently became insolvent due to irregularities would be a good candidate. As would the responsible executives at accounting firms who glossed over irregularities and profited thereby, and those stockbrokers who gave intentionally bad advice to investors for the purpose of profiting personally.

One way or another, the guilty should be punished, and this settlement is nothing more than PR. Sure, they're throwing a few people to the wolves, but most of the guilty parties will walk away from this debacle with their assets intact. That's truly unacceptable given the havoc they've wreaked on the general public. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs because of the direct or indirect results of actions taken by these people. Many retired people have had to go back to work because their retirement income has been cut dramatically or eliminated entirely. A few paltry fines and barring a few people from securities trading doesn't come close to making things right.

I got the new system laid out on the kitchen table yesterday, although it's not yet assembled. The main reason I haven't assembled it yet is that I can't find the snap-in drive rails that the Antec case uses for mounting 5.25" drives. Here are the components I'm planning to install.

  Component Price
Case Antec SX-1030 $ 95
Power supply Antec PP303 300W (included)  
Motherboard Intel D845GEBV2 91
Processor Intel Pentium 4/2.53G 183
Memory Crucial PC2700 512 MB
Crucial PC2700 256 MB
79
42
Hard Drive Seagate 120 GB Barracuda ATA V 124
Optical Drive Plextor PlexCombo 20/10/40-12A 104
    $ 718

The Antec case and power supply were recycled, and are no longer available. The equivalent in their current line would run about $95, so that's what I used for the price. The prices given for the other items are the lowest currently shown on PriceGrabber.com, and total $718. More realistically, you might expect to pay $800 or so for these components, including shipping. I could have saved a few bucks here and there by using a slower processor, less memory, a smaller hard drive, and so on, but the real point is that even if you choose to build a fast system, you still don't end up spending all that much.

I find it incredible that it's possible to put together a system this powerful for $800, and using all top-notch components. This system has 768 MB of DDR333 RAM. I remember a time, not all that long ago, when I'd have been delighted to have 768 MB of disk space. It also has 120 GB of fast hard disk and a combination DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive. The video and audio are both embedded, but both are more than sufficient for what I'll do with this system.

I thought about installing a gig of RAM, but even 768 MB is conspicuous consumption. The truth is that 512 MB would have been more than enough, and even 256 MB would have sufficed. But as long as I'm building the system, I might just as well built it such that it won't need to be touched for a long while. Same thing on the optical drive. I thought about installing a Plextor PX-504A DVD+R/RW drive, but this system simply doesn't need one. Initially, it'll replace my den system, which I'm going to turn into a Linux server. I'll install Windows 2000 on the new box, mainly because it'll eventually migrate back to Barbara's office. It should serve her well for the next year or two. She's still using a Pentium III/1.0G system, and is reasonably happy with it. A 2.53 GHz Pentium 4 should delight her.

Speaking of which, I'm going to migrate Barbara away from Outlook 2000 to Mozilla Mail. She's started getting error messages from the NAV pop proxy when she retrieves her mail. It's very odd, and I can't figure out what the problem is. A reboot usually solves the problem, but last night even that didn't work. I scanned her system for viruses and spyware, but didn't find any. She needs to keep Outlook because she uses the contacts, calendar, and tasks functions and syncs them to her Sony PDA. So I think I'll do on her system what I've done on mine. Use Mozilla Mail as the mail client, and use Outlook for PIM functions, with mail disabled.

Eventually, I'll convert Barbara to Linux, but probably not until a year or so after I've migrated to Linux as my primary desktop OS. Her system needs to be rock-solid, reliable, and supportable. I figure once I have a year or so of Linux under my belt I'll be able to support her system adequately.

11:53 - Well, it's not on the O'Reilly web site yet. It's not on the Amazon.com web site yet. But it is on the Amazon.co.uk website. I just happened to be on Amazon.uk looking for something else when I decided to search for PC Hardware in a Nutshell. According to that site, the new edition will be released 31 July, has grown from 804 pages to 904 pages, and will sell for the same price as the 2nd edition. I was kind of hoping it wouldn't take three months to get it into the bookstores, but all of that information is subject to change anyway, I'm sure.

14:22 - And the system fired right up. The Intel D845GEBV2 is a very nice motherboard. Things were a bit tight between the main ATX power connector and the FDC connector, but I managed to get both connected. Actually, I just left the FDC cable hanging there. When I build a new system, I frequently leave out the floppy drive. I always regret it later, but I always leave it out the next time I build a system. I left it out this time, and I'm sure I'll regret it later. I would have installed a floppy drive, but I didn't happen to have a nice new one sitting on the shelf. I have a dozen or more old ones already installed in unused cases, but I just didn't feel like tearing into an old case to retrieve a floppy drive. I'm sure I'll regret this later. 

 

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Wednesday, 30 April 2003

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10:43 - I moved the new system into the den, and moved the dust-laden old den system into the kitchen. That old system, a PIII/750 will be torn down, vacuumed out, and have the current hard drive replaced by a 120 GB Seagate Barracuda ATA V. That system has an ATI RAGE128 video adapter, 256 MB of PC133 RAM, a DDS-3 tape drive, and a Plextor 12X CD writer. That should be sufficient for its new role as my primary file server, running Linux.

Around 9:00 last night I got the new box into the den and fired up Windows 2000 Setup. When I build a new box, I usually install the OS while the box is on the bench. This time, I moved it into place first. When the box is on the bench, I can just start the OS install and walk away to do something else. This time, I was sitting right beside it. I'd forgotten how long Windows 2000 Setup takes to format a large hard drive. I started the format at 9:00 p.m. Two and a half hours later, Windows 2000 Setup had finally finished formatting the 120 GB drive. I let Windows finish installing and then powered down the system for the night.

This morning, I decided to start turning the box into a real system. Windows 2000 Setup had detected all the hardware properly except the chipset, video, sound, LAN, and USB 2.0 hubs and ports. (That was irony for those of you who are humor-impaired). I had no network connectivity, so I couldn't install updated drivers from the network volume that I'd downloaded them to last night. Oh, well. Intel supplied a CD with the motherboard, so I stuck that in the drive and fired it up.

The CD listed a dozen or so packages, including all the drivers I needed, although not all of those were marked for installation by default. In retrospect, I should have just accepted the defaults. Foolishly, I decided that since the CD had Norton Internet Security 2002, I might just as well go ahead and install it. In the past, I've done that. The bundled NIS always included a year's worth of updates to NIS and NAV, and I always figured that by the time the year expired I'd have moved on anyway. So I installed NIS/NAV, despite the fact that it wasn't selected by default to be installed.

After installing it and making multiple passes through the LiveUpdate feature, most of which required a reboot, I found that the bundled Norton apps now include only three months worth of updates. That's nothing more than a free sample, and I want no part of it. I'll uninstall it later. I don't really need it anyway. I don't use Internet Explorer or Outlook, which eliminates about 99% of the virus threat anyway. I'm behind a firewall, and I'll install WebWasher and SpyBot Search & Destroy. Those will do everything I need done. Mozilla Mail and the Mozilla Browser are worlds better than Microsoft products when it comes to security. I don't open file attachments unless I'm absolutely sure they're okay, so I don't need to worry about viruses.

The box itself appears to be stable, despite the old 300W Antec power supply. I'll run the PassMark utilities on it to burn it in for a while before I call it done.

The next thing I need to do is rebuild my old den system and install Linux on it. Basically, all it'll be is a Samba server, at least for now. I've downloaded the three Red Hat 9 ISOs, and that's what I'm inclined to use.

Speaking of distros, there's an excellent article up over on OS News, If I Had My Own Distro, by Adam Scheinberg. Mr. Scheinberg is clearly a man of vision and good sense. I hope Red Hat reads his article and takes it to heart. Linux needs to get some serious desktop market share soon, and Mr. Scheinberg's suggestions point the way. I say Red Hat because I don't see a lot of alternatives for a mainstream desktop distribution. I have friends who run Debian, Slackware, Gentoo, and other distributions, but I don't think any of them would argue that their choice of distro is appropriate for a newbie Windows convert. Mandrake is bankrupt, and the latest SuSE release frustrates even many experienced users. None of the so-called "desktop" Linux distributions has any noticeable market share, nor are they likely to get any.

Lycoris and Xandros just aren't there yet, and probably never will be. Lindows is a joke. Robertson crows about the bundling deals with Wal*Mart and so on, but one has to wonder just how many of those "Linux" systems Wal*Mart sells are actually running Mandrake or Lindows. My guess is that 99% of Wal*Mart Linux systems run Linux only as long as it takes the purchaser to stick a CD in the drive and replace Lindows with a free-market copy of Windows. Microsoft gnashes their teeth because they're sure that's happening, and I suspect they're right. I suspect Wal*Mart knew exactly what would happen, and rolled out their Linux PCs with the full expectation that nearly all purchasers would replace Lindows or Mandrake with Windows. From their point of view, that must be ideal, because they won't expect to get many support calls. From the buyers' point of view, they get a cheap machine that can run their (ahem) previously-purchased legitimate copy of Windows. Microsoft must be seriously pissed, but I doubt Wal*Mart or those who buy cheap PCs from them are losing any sleep over it. Maybe I'm wrong, though. Perhaps there's a burgeoning core of happy Lindows users out there. But if so I haven't heard from any of them.

At any rate, it seems to me that if we're ever going to see Linux grab serious desktop market share, it's going to come with a Red Hat logo. We'll see.

 

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Thursday, 1 May 2003

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11:28 - The new system, which I've named kerby, is fast, very fast. For example, one of the things I've always disliked about OpenOffice.org is the slow load time, even with the program stub sitting there in the tray. I loaded up OOo on the new system and edited soffice.ini to change Logo=1 to Logo=0, which disables the splash screen. Now when I start OpenOffice Writer, it takes literally less than a second between the time I click the icon and the time OO Writer is up and waiting for input. This is after a reboot; it's not loading from cache. Once I've loaded and then exited OO Writer, it reloads almost instantly.

The Inquirer posted an interesting article, Athlon 64: The processor that wasn't there? It's all speculation, but I suspect the author may be right. The Athlon 64 has been delayed repeatedly. Until very recently, it was to ship in September. Now it appears that it'll not ship until 2004, if then. AMD desperately wants to compete with Intel across the board, with the Opteron going up against high-end Xeon and Itanium servers, the Athlon 64 against low-end Xeon and high-end Pentium 4 workstations and small servers, and the Athlon XP against the Celeron. I don't think that's going to happen. I think the Opteron is going to fail to achieve any significant market share in the Xeon/Itanium segment, and will end up going up against the Pentium 4 directly. That doesn't leave much room for an Athlon 64.

Here's an interesting announcement. Sanyo's HD-BURN technology allows storing 1.4 GB on a 700 MB CD-R disc. This is exactly the path that Sony took a couple of years ago with their failed Double Density CD-R, except that the Sony system required special DD CD-R discs. The problem now, as then, is that standard CD and DVD drives can't read the double-density HD-BURN discs. That means this technology will be usable for people who want a higher capacity backup medium, but won't be particularly useful for distributing discs because there's no assurance that the recipient will be able to read them.

I much prefer Plextor's GigaRec technology, which they announced a couple weeks ago with their new Premium line of CD burners. GigaRec allows recording 40% more data to standard CD-R discs, which means you can fit about 1 GB on a standard 700 MB CD-R. It's not double-density like Sanyo's HD-BURN, but GigaRec discs can be read by nearly any CD or DVD drive, without hardware modifications or firmware upgrades.

Frankly, I'm not entirely comfortable with the idea of double-density CD-R discs anyway. I think back to the bad old days when Microsoft tried to cram extra data onto 1.44 MB floppies by using additional sectors on each track. Those so-called MDF (media distribution format) floppies were notoriously unreliable. MDF simply crammed more data onto a disk than it was ever intended to hold. I wonder if that's not the case for cramming 1.4 GB onto a nominal 700 MB CD-R disc. I'm not concerned about GigaRec, though. Putting 40% more data on a disc is one thing. Putting 100% more data on a disc is another thing entirely.

 

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Friday, 2 May 2003

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8:37 - I sent the following message to subscribers yesterday.

An interesting thought just struck me. I've mentioned frequently that Microsoft's biggest advantage is their proprietary Office file formats. OpenOffice.org deals well (although not perfectly) with Word's .doc format. I haven't tried the other formats, but readers have told me that they are similarly compatible, which is to say mostly but not entirely. Like many people, I'd love to see Microsoft's proprietary file formats fade away, replaced by OOo's standards-based formats. That's not going to happen unless somebody does something to jumpstart the OOo XML format.

It occurs to me that those of us who write for public consumption are in an excellent position to encourage the adoption of OOo standards-based formats. How? Simply by producing at least some of our public material in OOo format. If the public wants to read the material, they'll need to download OpenOffice.org and install it. That's not a particularly onerous burden. OOo is a free download, and is readily available on CD for those with thin pipes. A full installation of OOo takes something like 300 MB of disk space, which is $0.30 worth at current prices. OOo is no harder to get and use than Adobe Acrobat Reader. Just as the ubiquity of Acrobat Reader has made PDF a de facto standard, so should widespread availability of OOo make standards-based XML documents ubiquitous.

Microsoft's plans for XML in the new version of Office don't surprise me. As usual, they'll take a good idea and "embrace and extend" it, making it in effect their own proprietary standard. Their so-called "WordML" is simply an attempt to marginalize standards-based XML. I don't want to see that happen, and the way to prevent that is to proliferate standard XML applications and files.

Unless people convince me that I'm insane, I'm going to do my bit by writing occasional essays and reports and posting them for download in native OOo Writer format. Just as most sites that use PDFs have a prominent link to the download site for Acrobat Reader, I'll include a prominent link to the OOo download site. If a lot of web journalists and others who post material for public consumption follow my lead, OOo will soon become commonplace on systems worldwide, albeit as a secondary office suite on most of them. But primary or secondary isn't the issue, at least for now. What matters is that when these people click on an SXW file, OOo will open and display it for them.

I'm aware that there are a few stumbling blocks. Downloading the 50+ MB OOo is not practical for some people, and most corporate users aren't permitted to install applications themselves. But I really would like to do something to encourage adoption of standards-based document formats, and this seems a good idea at the time.

So what do you think? I'm going to post this material tomorrow morning on my journal page, so the debate should start up shortly thereafter on the Daynotes Forum.

I've received a dozen or so responses so far. One was neutral, and one or two more were negative. The remainder were positive. What do you think? Let me know over on the messageboard.

11:00 - Most of the responses I've gotten have been in favor of my idea, but some have pointed out various issues. In fairness, I decided to post a selection of the latter.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: RE: An idea
Date: Thu, 1 May 2003 14:13:17 -0400
From: Scott Kitterman
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

It's worth a try. I would install OOo if you did it, but I have a cable modem and am my own company of one person so I can install whatever I want.

Many of us (me at least) are in the position of writing not for general consumption, but for a customer. My customers all use Office and so I must. 99% compatibility isn't enough. Until someone can PROMISE me 100% compatibility, then I have to use Office.

Office compatibility is certainly an issue for some users, which is why I think the first step is to supplement MS Office with OOo rather than attempt to replace MS Office. What I'd like to see is the OOo XML format become common enough that Microsoft would be forced by customer demand to add the ability to import OOo data transparently. Ideally, I'd like to see MS Office export OOo data format as well, but that will probably never happen even though OOo uses XML.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: An idea
Date: Thu, 01 May 2003 14:44:13 -0400
From: Frank McPherson
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

What you say makes sense, that if one wishes a file format to succeed then they need to actively support it by providing content in that format.

I have only one nit in what you write below and that is the reference to Microsoft's use of XML. Unless I misunderstand, XML's purpose is to be used to create other languages. (eg. RSS or OPML) Therefore, if Microsoft "embraces and extends" XML to create WordML as I understand it they are simply using XML for which it is designed.

My understanding is that WordML is such a mess that calling it XML is really stretching it. IIRC, Microsoft is introducing six versions of their new Office version, and only two of those support standard XML. The others support only Microsoft's WordML. I'm certainly no XML expert, but from what I've been reading WordML is a complete mess. See, for example, http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/4/30410.html and http://www.xml.com/pub/a/2003/04/23/deviant.html.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: RE: An idea
Date: Thu, 01 May 2003 13:31:33 -0600
From: Ron Morse
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

A fine idea and worth supporting.

Something else to think about, though. If the goal is really to encourage adoption of XML (without all the onerous baggage Microsoft is trying to graft onto the languages) we need to start lobbying to force government agencies to make documents releasable to the public (including court documents) available in XML format. Worked for .PDF.

I like this approach better than pushing use of a specific application (as much as I like the Open Office Org suite) and will require only that authoring software read and write standard XML. If for some insane reason an individual or organization wants to use WordXML or anything else they can, but XML will become the default for electronic documents by, ah...er, default. Most organizations will not want to bother with maintaining libraries of documents in multiple formats if they can avoid it and will chose the most universal of alternatives that will do the job.

I agree. Unlike some, I have nothing against Microsoft. I use and like many of their products. What I don't like is their constant file format changes, which are clearly intended as vendor lock-in measures. The best way to combat this is to come up with a standards-compliant document format and proliferate it. The first goal has already been accomplished, but the second goal needs a lot of work. I have no axe to grind vis--vis MS Office versus OOo. All I want is for data to use open formats, but the best way I see to accomplish that in the short run is to encourage use of applications that save data in standards-compliant open formats. Accordingly, I'm pushing OOo not to advance OOo, but to advance XML. I don't think this is the only thing that should be done to advance the cause of XML, but I do think it's one effective early step.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: RE: An idea
Date: Fri, 2 May 2003 06:26:16 -0400
From: Paul E. Robichaux
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

Leaving aside the whole issue of whether or not MS is being nice with their XML (my opinion: Word can be made to produce standard XML; if you don't like seeing RTF embedded therein, just don't use it), this doesn't strike me as doing the readers any particular favors.

If I had to download 300MB of application to read an essay or article, it's likely that I'd pass on it unless there was some overwhelming need-- particularly if there were only a small number of sites that required it. While 300MB of disk seems a small price to pay, my Windows machines already have more than enough crap on them, so I'm not enthusiastic about installing more of it.

If you just want to poke MS in the eye, use PDF, which they hate. If you really want to produce a standards-compliant document that's easily read, use pure XML, either by exporting it from OOo or Word or by rolling it yourself.

Actually, I'm not trying to do the readers any particular favor, except that in the long term open data formats will benefit all of us except Microsoft. I haven't used the new release of MS Office, but from what I've read only two of the six versions support actual XML, with the others limited to only WordML. Is that wrong?

The application download was about 50 MB the last time I looked, not 300 MB. Granted, 50 MB is not a trivial download, but nor is it a major problem for many users. I just downloaded some Intel video, sound, and LAN drivers the other day. Some of them were nearly 20 MB. And for those with thin pipes, it's possible to order OOo on CD for not much more than the cost of postage.

I don't want to poke Microsoft in the eye. I like Microsoft. Everyone I've talked to at Microsoft has seemed to be very nice and very competent. I also like a lot of their software. I just don't like some of the things they do, and vendor lock-in via file formats is one of them. If Microsoft used open, fully documented data formats, I wouldn't have opened my mouth. But they don't, and XML is the only practical alternative I know of.

13:40 - Arrrghhh. Here's the latest Internet Explorer exploit, a snippet of HTML code that crashes IE. If you want to try it, I've posted a page that contains that code snippet here. Just be aware that IE will crash when you hit this page. I've tried it myself. Ughh.

 

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Saturday, 3 May 2003

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10:12 - My old den system is sitting on the kitchen table, where Barbara just vacuumed it out. It has an old Slot 1 Intel motherboard, Pentium III/750 processor, 256 MB of PC133 RAM, an ATI Rage128 video adapter, a Plextor 12X CD burner, and a DDS-3 tape drive running on an Adaptec host adapter. I think I'll just pull the old 20 GB Seagate Barracuda ATA II hard drive and replace it with a 120 GB Seagate Barracuda ATA V. That system should suffice as a Linux server box, which will eventually replace old theodore, our current Windows NT 4 Server file server. 

I'll burn Red Hat 9 ISOs and do a minimal server install on it. This will be a production system, so I want it stable and secure. I'll configure it as a Samba server and play with it a bit, but once I have it working as I want it to, I won't mess with it much thereafter.

 

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Sunday, 4 May 2003

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Please give a moment's thought today to Alison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer, and William Schroeder. Thirty-three years ago today at Kent State University, the Ohio National Guard murdered those four students and wounded nine others. Two of those dead were merely spectators at the anti-war protest that occurred that day. The other two were minding their own business on their way to classes. No students were armed. No Guardsmen had been injured, nor were they in any danger. The Guardsmen fired randomly for 13 seconds--13 seconds--into a group of unarmed civilians, killing students as much as 700 feet away. No one has ever been brought to justice for this massacre, nor even suffered administrative discipline.


9:11 - My mother is hell on telephones. Well, that's not really fair, because it's not her fault. She keeps her phone on a rolling bedside table, where it is frequently knocked off or pulled off when someone moves the cart. Mom has done it, her aides have done it, even I have done it. I killed one dead just a month or so ago. I tried giving her a cordless phone, but the problems with that are that it needs charged (and there's no place to put a charger where she can reach it), and that the buttons are too small for her. So I keep taking over standard Princess phones. I have a pile of dead ones here. Sometimes I can assemble a working one from a working base and a working handset from two dead ones.

At any rate, I called her yesterday morning and got ring-no-answer. So I called the nurses' station. She came back to tell me that mom had dropped her phone. So I headed over with yet another phone, only to find that it didn't work either. It wasn't the phone that had died. There was no dial tone at the jack. So I went off in search of the maintenance guy, whom mom had said she'd seen walking around shortly before I arrived. When I spoke to him, he said they hadn't been messing with the phones or wiring at all.

So I drove home to pick up the butt set and toner I borrowed months ago from my friend Steve Tucker and keep forgetting to return. I put tone on mom's pair and traced it back to the equipment room, which was unlocked. (It's amazing what you can get away with if you look like you know what you're doing.) The equipment room is the usual rats' nest of wiring and blocks, with miscellaneous cross-connects dangling in front of the blocks, pairs hanging free, field-expedient bridge connections made with cross-connect wire instead of bridging clips, and so on. I finally found mom's pair on the station panel and on the cross-connect block, although I had to do it with tone because the rats' nest of cross-connect wires was so snarled I couldn't trace them.

I found the CO block. There were some labels, but I wouldn't trust them. I ended up putting my butt set on each CO pair and dialing the ANI number to find out which CO line it really was. I went through that twice just to make sure. Mom's number was nowhere to be found. So I went back up to her room and told her her CO line was dead and that I'd have to call BellSouth. I drove home and called BellSouth to report the problem. They told me there was indeed a problem on the line, and that they'd have it repaired by 6:00 p.m. Monday. I explained to them that mom is 84 and that her phone line is her only connection to the outside world. He promised to expedite the repair as much as possible.

About 90 minutes later, the phone rang. It was mom, telling me that the phone guy was there and wanted her to test her line. At his request, I called her back to test ring-in and learned that her phone was now working properly. Problem solved.

Until a couple hours later, when I called mom to let her know I didn't plan to come over that evening. Ring-no-answer. So I called the nurses' station. They went in and asked her to call me. We then tried me calling her again, and found that her phone no longer rings. So I'm on my way over this morning with yet another phone. Arrrghhh.

 

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Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.