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Week of 19 May 2003

Latest Update : Wednesday, 21 May 2003 14:05 -0400

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Monday, 19 May 2003

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10:32 - This will be a short work week. Barbara and I have both been working hard and decided we deserved a break. We decided to extend the three-day Memorial Day holiday to include Friday and Tuesday. I'll probably mostly lie around and munch my way through my to-be-read stack. I may build a system or two. I'm sure Barbara will be out and about running errands by herself and with friends. Of course, she has a pretty big TBR stack herself.

I just got back from the nursing home, where I met with the Social Worker, the Director of Nursing, and the head of the facility. Last night, my mother called in tears to say that one of the aides had been extremely rough with her. Despite my mother telling the aid that she was hurting her, the aide persisted in what she was doing. Barbara and I roared over there last night to confront them with what had happened. We asked the duty nurse to come in to witness what mom had to say about what had happened. The aide lied, both about that incident and other incidents, trying to make out that my mother is non compos mentis. This after my mother had finished the Sunday crossword puzzle earlier that day. I was tempted to suggest that we rip two random crossword puzzles out of my mother's crossword puzzle book, have my mother and the aide each do one, and see who finished first.

This morning, those three senior staff members came up to my mother's room to meet with us. They told us what the aide had reported them, and I told them flat out that the aide had lied, both about this and about past events. This aide is one of two that don't do their jobs. It's a shame, because 95% of the staff at the nursing home is good, but just a few bad ones can make life miserable. My mother, as well as other residents, dread the weekend coming. There are no senior staff on duty, and it's weekends when the bad aides tend to be working (or, more precisely, not working much but drawing a paycheck).

Barbara wanted me to file a formal complaint, and that's what I was prepared to do going into the meeting this morning. But it sounds as though we can resolve the situation short of that. The nursing home staff will keep the problem aide away from my mother from now on. They also said that they will start sending two aides in at all times, because they say that the other aides are concerned that mom might file a complaint against them. I still haven't ruled out filing a formal complaint, but I'll wait to see how things work out.

The other problem I brought up is that one of the other residents is extremely disruptive. She bangs the table attached to her wheelchair constantly, and rolls up and down the hall shouting and cursing. According to the staff, this is part of her disease process, and their hands are tied. Years ago, a person in this condition would have been heavily medicated to stop her disruptive behavior, but nowadays that's not permitted. The head of the facility suggested that mom might be happier at the far end of the hall, which is much quieter. I told mom to think about it.

She'll never be as happy at a nursing home as she would have been at home, but there's no reason why she should have to put up with aides who don't do their jobs (or worse), let alone being forced to listen to this lunatic woman shouting obscenities for days on end.

Spam-check: This morning, I had 193 new messages from overnight, of which 80 were spam, or 41.5%. Of those 80 spams, SpamAssassin caught 78, or 97.5%.

12:01 - I just sent the following message to subscribers.

There is a new mass-mailing worm called W32.HLLW.Mankx@mm that is now spreading fast. Although it does not appear to damage infected systems directly, there are many possible exploits that this worm may be in aid of. The worm is particularly dangerous because it forges "support@microsoft.com" as the From: line, thereby greatly increasing the likelihood that recipients will open the attached file.

The subject line is reported to be one of the following:

o Your details
o Approved (Ref: 38446-263)
o Re: Approved (Ref: 3394-65467)
o Your password
o Re: My details
o Screensaver
o Cool screensaver
o Re: Movie
o Re: My application

The text body of the message is reported to be:

"All information is in the attached file."

For more details, including removal instructions, see http://www.sarc.com/avcenter/venc/data/w32.hllw.mankx@mm.html.

12:06 - I received bounces on the following subscriber email addresses. If one of these is yours, please send me your current email address.

hassell at hasselltech dot net: Host not found

culam at sonic dot net: 550 User unknown

larry.see at mindspring dot com: 550 User unknown



Tuesday, 20 May 2003

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11:33 - If you have any interest in digital video, check out the new Plextor ConvertX, which Plextor describes as the "World's First MPEG-4 Converter". I confess that I have very little interest in video personally, which means I haven't paid as much attention to it as I probably should have. The only DVD-Video disc in the house is a copy of The Lion King that I think one of my friends got at McDonalds during some sort of promotion several years ago. I use that for testing DVD-Video stuff. Barbara and I don't own a DVD player, and have no plans to buy one. Nor do we own a Tivo or subscribe to digital cable. There's just so little available that's of interest to us that we don't bother. Better to spend the time reading a book. We do use our VCRs to tape a movie occasionally, and we time shift Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a couple other shows that Barbara watches. That's about it around here as far as video.

But it occurs to me that my total lack of interest in video is unusual. I suppose I really should learn more about capturing, editing, and storing video, if only because many of our readers are interested in it.

Bo Leuf has an interesting post about the US "no-fly" list. That's pretty horrifying, when you think about it. Not to mention stupid. If you share a name with one of the estimated 300 people on that list, you're screwed. If you attempt to board a commercial airline flight at any US airport, you can expect to be treated as a suspected terrorist. Bo links to an article that describes the travails of nearly a score of men who have the misfortune to be named "David Nelson". If you happen to have that name, or any of the estimated 300 other unknown names on the list, you will have miserable experiences every time you attempt to fly. And there is nothing you can do to get yourself off the list. Nothing. Incredible, but true.



Wednesday, 21 May 2003

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11:23 - The final season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer ended with a bang, with Sunnydale literally disappearing into a hole. Our friends Brian and Marcia Bilbrey got out of Sunnydale just in time, it seems. I'm sad to see Buffy go, as it was the only TV program I cared about watching. With it gone, I don't really care if we have a TV or not. We'll keep one, I'm sure, because there are other shows Barbara likes to watch, and we do need it for the Weather Channel and the local weather during tornado watches and so on. But otherwise I consider a TV a "goddamn noisy box", as Valentine Michael Smith put it.

So Spike becomes the Christ-figure, Willow becomes a goddess, and every woman becomes a Slayer. Life is going to be tough for bad guys in the Buffyverse. One has to wonder if the US government in that 'verse will make vampires an endangered species. Not to mention rapists, wife beaters, and other slime.

I did something last night I'd never done before. I read the original episode for the script as I watched the program. It was quite interesting to watch the differences between the original script and the episode as they played out. Most of the changes were minor, and simply tightened up the episode by removing extraneous stuff. Others were more significant. For example, in the script it is Anya that survives

There's an interesting /. thread entitled, Why Do Computers Still Crash? Most of the posters talk about software issues. Only a few mention the real reason, which is generally hardware. The truth is that a PC constructed with top-notch components will be pretty much crash-free with any modern operating system, and that most definitely includes Windows 2000 and Windows XP. For example, the uptime of my Windows NT 4 Server fileserver box is now something like 4.5 years, not counting downtime during power failures, routine cleaning and maintenance, and hardware upgrades.

I literally cannot remember the last time that Windows blue-screened on me. (I'm counting only Windows NT/2000/XP. Windows 9X is a piece of crap.) If anything, and I know this is heresy, Windows NT/2K/XP has been more stable for me than Linux. Linux crashes a lot more often than Windows NT/2K/XP, even when it's running on first-rate hardware. Nor am I talking about anything attributable to my newbieness. I've done many rock-stock Linux installations in the last few months, added nothing and done nothing to the systems, only to find later that some of them have crashed and burned.

My Mandrake 9.0 router/gateway box crashes on average once every couple of weeks. I don't hold that against Linux, though, because that box is built around an AMD Duron processor in a VIA-based motherboard. But I have other Linux boxes built on good hardware that just crash periodically for no apparent reason. Sometimes it's just the video that dies, but quite often the box is locked up tight, not even responding to pings. That doesn't happen often in an absolute sense, but it does happen often relative to my Windows NT/2K/XP boxes. I'm sure that I'll outrage Linux proponents by saying so, but I consider Linux to be inherently somewhat less stable than Windows NT/2K/XP.

That's not to say that Linux is a bad choice or that it is crash-prone. It isn't. But Linux is often represented to be more stable than Windows, which it is not, at least in my experience. I don't doubt that a command-line Linux server is quite stable. But then so is Windows. The key to stability for any operating system is good hardware, well maintained. If you build a system around first-rate components--particularly motherboard, memory, and power supply--you'll find that your system will run crash-free for months on end.

Speaking of good hardware, I've finally accumulated everything I need to build Barbara's new system. The last piece of the puzzle was a heatsink/fan unit, and UPS just showed up with some Dynatron HSF units. They send me two each of two models, the DC1207BM-X and the DC1206BM-Y. They differ primarily (or solely) in the fan they use. The 1206 uses a 60mm fan running at 4500 RPM, while the 1207 uses a 70mm fan running at 4300 RPM. The larger fan moves a lot more air, 34.3 CFM versus 17.87 CFM. The only downsides I can see to the 1207 versus the 1206 is that the former draws a couple extra watts of 12V and generates 36 dBA versus 34.15 dBA. I think a couple extra watts and 1.85 dBA is a small price to pay for nearly twice the airflow, so I'll use the 1207 in Barbara's new system.

Spam-check: This morning, I had 328 new messages from overnight, of which 96 were spam, or 29.3%. Of those 96 spams, SpamAssassin caught 96, or 100.0%.

12:15 - Intel officially ships their Springdale (D865-series) motherboards today, along with several new models of Pentium 4 that use the 800 MHz host bus. I have one of their D865G boards (formerly know as the "D8<I-can't-talk-about-it-yet>") and will be building Barbara's new system around it. Here's my short take on the boards and processors:

1. Although Intel continues to produce the 845-series chipsets and motherboards and has positioned them for now as entry-level products, the 865-series chipsets are now the way to go for any system, including an entry-level unit. The 865-series chipsets differ from the 845-series chipsets primarily in that they support dual-channel DDR-SDRAM and the 800 MHz FSB, but there are some other differences. For details, see the Intel Chipset Comparison Chart. My take: use an Intel D865G motherboard for anything from an entry-level to a mainstream system, unless the embedded graphics are insufficient. If that's the case, use the 865PE. If you need ECC support, use the 875P.

2. The new Pentium 4 processor models support the 800 MHz FSB and Hyper-Threading technology, both of which were formerly available only in top-of-the-line Intel processors. For now, Intel continues to sell the 2.4, 2.6, and 2.8 GHz Pentium 4's with the 533 MHz FSB and no HTT, but I expect those to be phased out quickly. The newer models cost little more than the older models. Although neither the 800 MHz FSB nor HTT support make a huge performance difference, the difference is very real and is worth going for. The Pentium 4/2.4C processor is an excellent choice for a mainstream system, as are the faster models when performance is more important than cost. For entry-level systems, we continue to recommend the Celeron, although it gets a lot of bad press. The fact is that Celeron performance is quite credible in standard office applications, web browsing, and so on. The Celeron falls down in applications, such as video editing, gaming, and general multimedia tasks, where the 128 KB L2 cache puts it at a severe handicap relative to the 512 KB L2 cache in the Pentium 4s. If you're using mostly 2D productivity applications, a sub-$100 Celeron running in a D865G motherboard is more than fast enough.

12:33 - Here's a Wired article that's worth reading: If We Run Out of Batteries, This War is Screwed. The mental image of artillery colonels defaulting to using big-breasted avatars in Microsoft Chat was quite amusing. I wonder what avatar General Franks used.

14:05 - I didn't expect it to take long, and it didn't. Here's a response from Roland Dobbins to my comments on Linux stability:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Your remarks vis-a-vis
Date: Wed, 21 May 2003 10:26:08 -0700
From: Roland Dobbins
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

hardware issues, stability, and Linux this AM simply aren't borne out by the experiences of others, especially me.

I've -never- hand Linux crash, or hang. Never. It simply doesn't happen.

Now, you may've had -XFree86- crash or hang on you - and if you'd thought about it, you could've sshed to the machine in question from another box and simply killed your incorrectly-configured XFree86, or used control-alt-backspace to kill it, if it were still accepting keyboard input, or used control-alt-F2 to open another text terminal login window so that you could log in and kill it.

Mr. Thompson, when your experience in a given arena runs consistently against what acknowledged experts in a given field report, and when it's not a mushy subjective area like politics in which people have various agendas, it's time to re-examine your basic assumptions and premises.

You are wrong about Linux instability. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

It is my considered opinion that you have -never- experienced a Linux crash/hang, but merely XFree86 issues due to a) incorrect configuration and b) the fact that you didn't know about/didn't think about the techniques listed above.

Your considered opinion is wrong. I can tell the difference between an XFree86 crash and a system crash, as I made clear in my post. If XFree86 is incorrectly configured, well that's the way the Red Hat installation procedure configured it. You can be sure that if Windows had misconfigured its own video and crashed as a result of that, I would report that as well.

As it happens, I do have an SSH client (PuTTY) installed on my Windows systems. I am quite capable of using it, and do in fact use it when a Linux system isn't responding at the console. When a Linux system does not respond to the connected keyboard, mouse, and monitor, does not respond to an attempt to SSH to it, and does not respond to pings, I consider that system crashed.

What you tell me three times is not necessarily true. I am not "Wrong, wrong, wrong" when I report that in my experience Linux is less stable than Windows NT/2K/XP. I am simply reporting what I have observed. Clearly, you don't like that, but I am neither incompetent nor lying, and I must wonder which of those you accuse me of.

The essence of the scientific method is that one observes results and reports them without bias. That is what I do. I am always careful to qualify my statements when necessary. You will note that I use such phrases as "in my experience" and that I report the environment, including hardware and general type of usage. I do not, for example, make judgements about Linux versus Windows stability on a large-scale web server, because I do not run a large-scale web server under either operating system.

My readers do not expect me to be perfect, nor infallible. I have never represented that I am either of those. They do, however, expect me to be honest, both in terms of factual statements and when I express my opinions. I have never been anything less than honest with my readers, although I have at times been mistaken. When I am mistaken, I say so.

I think my "basic assumptions and premises" are just fine, but ultimately it's up to my readers to decide that. If I let them down, they won't be back. And reporting contrary to my own experience, or keeping silent just because I don't like what I've seen, is letting my readers down.




Thursday, 22 May 2003

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Friday, 23 May 2003

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Saturday, 24 May 2003

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Sunday, 25 May 2003

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