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Week of 16 June 2003

Latest Update : Sunday, 22 June 2003 10:09 -0400


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Monday, 16 June 2003

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10:45 - I run this place pretty much on the Public Radio model. I solicit subscriptions from readers to help pay the costs of hosting and so forth, but subscribing is purely voluntary. If you'd like to support this journal and the messageboards, please visit the Subscription Page. Thanks.

I just sent off our estimated tax payment. I get angry every time I have to do that. The whole idea of withholding sucks. Before WWII, there wasn't any withholding. On April 15th, everyone did their taxes and wrote a check for the amount due for the preceding year. That's the way it should be, and that's the way it was until someone got the bright idea of implementing withholding. There was a great deal of outrage at the time, but withholding was passed as an emergency measure, originally only for the duration of the war. Like many "temporary" measures, this one turned out to be permanent.

The real reason withholding is still in place is that the government knows that people would be extremely upset every April 15th when they had to write a huge check for income tax and social security tax for the preceding year. Just imagine what you'd have to pay in one chunk. First, most people would have to pay 15%+ of last year's income simply for Social Security. On top of that, they might have to pay another 20% or more in income taxes. For example, if you made $50,000 last year, you might have to write a single check for $20,000 on April 15th. There would be cries for politicians' heads on platters, and no politician could hope to be re-elected.

I've always thought that the anti-tax movement should concentrate on getting withholding repealed. Let people actually see what they're paying, and there'd be a crowd of peasants with pitchforks and torches storming Congress. And rightly so.

The first and only time we actually had a system infected by a virus around here was Friday, 26 March, 1999, when I opened an email attachment in a message sent to me by Jerry Pournelle. That attachment contained the Melissa macro virus. Literally seconds after I opened the message, a high-priority email arrived from Jerry to say that he'd unintentionally sent me a macro virus. I immediately killed Outlook, and my system never sent out any copies of Melissa. It took me a few hours to clean up my system, but that was the only time I've had to spend over the years actually cleaning up a virus on my own systems.

Accordingly, I've gotten pretty casual about running virus protection on my systems. Back when I was still running Outlook and Internet Explorer, I locked them up pretty tight, going as far as to delete cscript.exe and wscript.exe from my system32 directories. All scripting and similar functions were, of course, disabled in IE. That made it pretty hard for a virus/Trojan/worm to accomplish anything on my systems, but for a while I ran Norton AV anyway. It caught plenty of incoming viruses, but there was never any real threat to my systems.

I never liked the additional overhead that real-time virus checking imposes, and once I'd switched away from Outlook and IE to Mozilla, there was really no longer any point to running them. When the Norton AV running on my desktop system expired, I didn't bother to renew it, and I've been running my office and den systems without AV software for more than a year now.

For Barbara, it's a bit different. She's not as sophisticated a user as I am, and she visits a lot of web sites that require IE. She knows and follows the rules for safe computing, such as not opening unexpected attachments, but even so she's at greater risk than I am. So I've been running Norton AV on her system to protect her email and browser. We're in the process of migrating her to Mozilla Mail and Mozilla Browser, which helps, but even so she remains at greater risk for viral infections.

Formerly, I'd just have installed the complimentary copy of Norton AntiVirus that comes with Intel motherboards. In the past, that included a license good for one year's worth of updates. No longer. Now the license is good for only three months, after which you have to start paying the subscription fee. That's more like a demo copy than a free copy. There's not much point to installing it.

I don't want to pay Symantec for updates. Years ago, I purchased several copies of their AV software, which promised free updates forever. They later reneged on that promise, saying that the software was discontinued and if I wanted AV I'd have to buy the new version. When a company does something like that, I remember it for a long time. Heck, I'm still upset with DataStorm Technologies. Many years ago, I registered and paid for ProComm 2.4.2, on the promise that all subsequent updates would be freely available to me. Shortly thereafter, DataStorm introduced ProComm Plus, to which I felt entitled. Not so, said DataStorm. ProComm Plus was a "new" product, and if I wanted it I'd have to pay for it. Notably, they let the original shareware ProComm languish, making a paid upgrade to ProComm Plus the only realistic solution.

Certainly, this was back in the days when software makers hadn't yet noticed the King Gillette model. Instead of giving away the razor and selling the blades, they were giving away the blades forever to anyone who bought the razor once. That's a stupid business model, but it was their decision to offer it. Reneging on it is simply unacceptable. Accordingly, I felt absolutely no guilt in using ProComm Plus without buying a license for it. I'd feel equally comfortable using NAV without paying their subscription fee, but there are certain practical difficulties involved in doing that. Also, I'm not particularly happy with NAV. It's bloated, and it slows things down noticeably.

So I went off in search of a free alternative. A year or two ago, I'd downloaded a free-for-personal-use copy of AVG AntiVirus. I wasn't particularly impressed with it then, but over the weekend I downloaded and installed the current free Version 6.0. As far as I can see, it does everything I need to do. AVG lists the following features:

  • AVG Resident Protection
  • AVG Email Scanner
  • AVG On-Demand Scanner
  • Basic Scheduled Tests
  • Free Virus Database Updates
  • Automatic Update feature
  • Easy-To-Use Interface
  • Automatic Healing of infected files
  • AVG Virus Vault for safe handling of infected files

AVG points out that the free version lacks some features present in the pay-for version:

  • Basic user Interface only
  • Disabled Advanced Scheduling of Tests
  • Disabled Creating of Your Own Tests
  • No Technical Support

As far as I can see, none of these will be a major issue for most people. The basic interface works fine. The scheduling in the free version allows scheduled scans only once every 24 hours, but you can set the time of day for them to occur. I don't care about creating my own tests, and the lack of tech support isn't an issue.

AVG says that the free version doesn't work on servers and cannot be installed in any networked environment. I installed it on my den system, which is a network client, and it installed and ran fine. It even allowed me to define a scheduled scan that included mapped network volumes. As far as I can tell, the free version of AVG is more than adequate for personal use. I intend to install it on Barbara's system to replace NAV.

The next time I need a toner cartridge or inkjet cartridges, I know where I'll buy them. I just stumbled across a fascinating site called LaserMonks. It's run by Cistercian monks in a monastery in Wisconsin, and they sell printer and copier supplies to support themselves. The selection appears to be comprehensive, and their prices are good. Their home page says:

We put our clients first, really!
After all, we're monks, really!

Which pretty much sums it up. I mean, if you can't trust monks, who can you trust?

I wonder if they have a Brother Cadfael. Oh, wait. Cadfael was Benedictine, wasn't he?

Spam check: Weekend overnight emails totaled 664, of which 263 (39.6%) were spam. Of those spams, SpamAssassin caught 258 (98.1%).

13:13 - I've just been exchanging a flurry of emails with my editors at O'Reilly. It seems that they're ready to do the QC1 pass, which means the book is almost complete. They've done the layout and "fixed" things. Some of the things they thought were broken were probably correct as is, which means I have to do a careful pass through the manuscript to check their changes. Unfortunately, the O'Reilly production process means that the changes they've made aren't flagged, and there's no simple way to do a compare between what I wrote and how the book reads now. That means I'll have to read the book word-by-word, looking for mistakes, both ones that were there all along and weren't caught and ones that were introduced during editing.

My production editor is FedExing me a hard copy and posting the chapter files themselves to a secure area on the O'Reilly ftp server. I'll do a quick read-through of the hard copy, followed by a more detailed read through to discover any changes that need to be made. Once I've done that, I'll send those changes via email, keyed to page and paragraph numbers from the PDFs. I'll also be doing minor update and re-write, particularly on the "Picks" sections. At this point, the book's layout is cast in stone, which means any changes I make cannot affect the page and chapter breaks.

The deadline for getting all of this done is next Monday, the 23rd. That means I'll probably not have much time to post updates here.

 

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Tuesday, 17 June 2003

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10:46 - Work continues on the galley proofs of the third edition of PC Hardware in a Nutshell. I have less than a week to proof and correct almost a thousand pages of manuscript. During that time, I'll have almost no time for doing other stuff.

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Like a rabid Chihuahua, SCO is running around trying to bite everyone and everything in sight. The latest news is that SCO is now claiming rights over all operating systems. That's right, all of them. Not just Unix and Unix-like operating systems, but Windows as well. But don't take my word for it. In a Byte article, Trevor Marshall quotes chief SCO attack-Chihuahua Chris Sontag as saying,

"We believe that UNIX System V provided the basic building blocks for all subsequent computer operating systems, and that they all tend to be derived from UNIX System V (and therefore are claimed as SCO's intellectual property)."

I'll bet Bill Gates is delighted to hear that. Everyone, presumably including Microsoft, thought that Microsoft had bought and paid for a broad-based license to SCO IP and was therefore immune from being pursued by the rabid Chihuahua. Not so, says Sontag. Microsoft merely licensed an "applications interface layer". Hmmm. I'll bet that's news to Bill, who's liable to sic his own attack dog, Steve Ballmer (AKA Uncle Festus), on SCO and company. That's the unfortunate thing about a rabid Chihuahua. It's likely to attack anyone, including people who think it's their friend.

The most significant thing I saw in yesterday's announcement was that SCO chose to purse a permanent injunction. IANALTG, but what that tells me is that SCO realizes that its position is far too weak to succeed. Going for a permanent injunction means the case will not be decided until a long court battle concludes, which will probably take years. In the interim, SCO will be free to continue pursuing its FUD campaign. SCO could instead have pursued a temporary injunction, which would have allowed a judge to order IBM to cease and desist until the matter was brought to trial and a verdict was reached. The trouble with that is that SCO would, among other things, have to convince the judge that SCO had a reasonable chance of eventually winning. It's pretty clear that SCO realized that wasn't going to happen, so their pursuit of a permanent injunction seems to me to be simply a way to draw things out.

That seems to me to indicate desperation on SCO's part. What they were hoping for was a quick settlement, or to be bought by IBM. When that didn't happen, SCO found itself in an untenable position. So far, SCO has shown absolutely no evidence to back up their wild accusations. Many, perhaps most, analysts believe that's because SCO has no evidence to show. SCO has run a dog-and-pony show with tame "analysts" like Laura "Didiot" DiDio, which proved exactly nothing but gave them the opportunity to inject more FUD into the general and financial news media. At this point, it seems to me that SCO knows they're toast, and is simply delaying matters in the hope that something, anything, may happen to improve their position.

If all of this comes to nothing, as I believe it will, I hope that the affected companies and the government will penalize both SCO the company and the SCO employees who have brought things to this state. I'd like to see SCO bankrupted by lawsuits and fines, certainly, but that is insufficient. If it turns out that SCO was engaging in barratry, I would hope that the government would pursue criminal charges against McBride, Sontag, and all of the other SCO executives. If, as I suspect, all of this is simply an ill-considered money grab, these people need to pay a very heavy personal price.

14:23 - There is a young woman who is posting over on the HardwareGuys.com messageboard about a new system she's building. Like many extraordinary people, Alexxstar doesn't realize there's anything extraordinary about her. In addition to diving into building her own computer, Alexxstar noted in passing that she is nine months pregnant, has a two-year-old underfoot, and oh by the way, is rehabbing an old Victorian house that she just moved into two weeks ago. I wonder what she does in her spare time. I posted the following over on the messageboard.

I am reminded of a quote that I sometimes use and (perhaps wrongly) attribute to Kipling. "The cowards never started and the weaklings died along the way."

You, alexxstar, are clearly neither a coward nor a weakling. My hat is off to you. Well, it would be, if I wore a hat.

Alexxstar is a woman I would enjoy meeting. If she had time.

 

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Wednesday, 18 June 2003

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9:38 - Work continues on the galley proofs of the third edition of PC Hardware in a Nutshell. I'm only halfway through chapter 3 now, which sounds as though I'm horribly behind, but the first four chapters are very long and have a great deal of detail to check, so I'm really not doing badly at all.

There is certainly no shortage of nutcases among politicians, but Utah Senator Orrin Hatch has shown himself to be a champion nutcase among nutcases. He proposes that PC's incorporate DRM features that will allow a copyright owner remotely to destroy a PC that contains "pirated" content. Hatch is at least good enough to require two warnings before the RIAA remotely turns your PC into smoking rubble. What a guy. Of course, he also proposes save-harmless provisions, to make sure his buddies at the RIAA and MPAA can't be charged for their terrorist actions.

Predictably, this proposal is drawing howls of outrage from reasonable people. But I think it's simply a straw man. Hatch surely can't believe there's any possibility of such a Draconian law being enacted. I think his goal is to propose things that are so outrageous that the truly dangerous laws like the DMCA seem benign by comparison.

I hope the good people of Utah will vote this moron out of office at the first opportunity.

The Register has a great article posted about a guy who scammed the Nigerian scammers. He took them for 170.38. Not a lot of money, but it's a start.

 

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Thursday, 19 June 2003

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10:38 - I'm still working heads-down on the galley proofs, and probably won't be finished until next week. In the interim, I'm spending most of the little time I have available over on the messageboards.

Mirabile dictu, it seems that we may have clear nights both Friday and Saturday. Luna doesn't rise until 1:00 a.m. local or later on those nights, so we'll be able to get in at least a couple hours' observing between the end of astronomical twilight (10:34 p.m. local both nights) and moonrise. It's about time. We haven't had a good night in a long time. I think we've had at most two or three really good nights between last September and now. We're all desperate to get some observing in, and we may get our chance this weekend. Fortunately, Steve Wilson eradicated the nest of Black Widow spiders he found up at our observing site.

 

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Friday, 20 June 2003

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8:52 - I'm still working heads-down on the galley proofs, making slower progress than I'd like. Here it is Friday morning, and I'm only half-way through chapter 6. Oh, well. The early chapters were a tough slog. Most of the later ones will be easier. I hope.

Saturday night is still forecast to be clear, but tonight is bit more iffy. We'll see.

 

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Saturday, 21 June 2003

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8:30 - I'm about half way through the book now. I knocked off about 5:00 yesterday afternoon, and started getting ready for an observing trip up to Bullington. We walked the dogs last night, and then took off for Bullington just before 8:00, arriving just before sunset. We got the scopes set up and then sat down to wait for darkness. The end of Civil Twilight was about 9:15, but it wasn't full dark until the end of Astronomical Twilight at 10:34.

Barbara started working the galaxy cluster in Coma-Virgo, all of which she still needs to log to complete the Messier list. Although transparency wasn't perfect, she managed to bag several of the Coma-Virgo galaxies, including M59, M60, M58, M84, M86, M88, M89, M90, and M100.

That was with the 10" Dobsonian scope. Barbara also needed to get two more Messier Objects with her binocular to reach the 50 objects required for her Binocular Messier certification from Astronomical League. She managed to get M49, which is a Virgo galaxy (and a difficult binocular object), leaving her with only one more needed. She'll probably get M18 in Sagittarius tonight, which will complete the requirements for her certificate.

I've already logged all 110 Messier Objects, completing my full Messier Club requirements, but I decided I'm going to log the entire list again using only our 90mm refractor. One of Messier's favorite scopes was a 90mm refractor with a 1,000 mm focal length, which is exactly what we have. Bagging the entire list with that scope is a real challenge (our skies are nowhere near as dark as those Messier had in the 1700's), but it will be an interesting experiment. Last night, I got my first half-dozen or so objects with the 90mm, including M40, M81, and M82 in Ursa Major, and M59, M60, and M104 in Virgo. I'll get more tonight.

This morning they're having a yard sale at the nursing home. Barbara rented a space, and went over early to set up our table. She's running on not much sleep. We finally got to bed around 2:00 this morning, and she was out the door and headed for the nursing home at 7:00. I'm headed over there shortly to get my mom into her wheelchair and out to the parking lot to help with the table.

We'll probably nap this afternoon, because tonight is also to be clear. Barbara and I are both tired, but after months of cloudy skies there's no way we're going to waste a clear weekend night.

 

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Sunday, 22 June 2003

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10:09 - We did go up to Bullington again last night to observe. This time of year, it's not full dark until after 10:30 p.m., which makes for late nights. Barbara almost finished up the Messier Objects in the Coma-Virgo clutter. There are 14 Messier galaxies between the stars Vindemiatrix in Virgo and Denebola in Leo. In the last two evenings, Barbara managed to log 13 of those. The only one she hasn't logged is M88. By the time she started trying to locate M88, it was pretty low in the sky, down in the light dome from Mt. Airy. Barbara also logged three new binocular objects toward her Binocular Messier certificate from Astronomical League. Fifty are required. She had 48 going into Friday night. She didn't get any Friday night, but she added three last night, M18 in Sagittarius, M80 in Scorpius, and M94 in Canes Venatici.

Last night, this morning actually, we got home about 1:45 a.m. and to bed by 2:00. At my age, doing that two nights in a row gets wearing, especially when one considers that the dogs are up at their usual time and get us up as well. At least we were able to sleep in until 8:00 this morning.

One unusual thing. When we pulled down the drive at 1:45, Barbara shouted, "there's a deer!" Sure enough, there was a large deer in our back yard. We live in a 30-year old neighborhood called Town & Country Estates, on the northwest edge of the Winston-Salem city limits. Unlike many developments, there is at least some reality behind the name. We have sheep and horses grazing a quarter mile from our house. Even so, it's pretty unusual to see large wildlife in our neighborhood. When deer show up in populated areas, it usually means they're under some stress, and I wonder what forced this deer to risk coming into our neighborhood. With all the rain recently, I'd expect deer to be able to find food easily, but perhaps that's not the case.

 

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