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Week of 21 July 2003

Latest Update : Saturday, 26 July 2003 15:52 -0400

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Monday, 21 July 2003

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12:11 - I just paid my domain hosting bill this morning. If you've thought about subscribing but haven't yet done so, or if you've subscribed but it's been a while, now would be a good time to subscribe or renew your subscription. If you would like to subscribe, click here.

I guess I just don't understand geopolitical strategy. On 9/11, the United States was attacked by Al Queda, a terrorist organization led by a Saudi Arabian and funded by Saudi Arabians. Of the 19 attackers who were identified, 14 were Saudi Arabians. The United States, rightly outraged, finally got around to attacking ... Iraq.

Don't get me wrong. I don't like Saddam Hussein. I thought it was a mistake to leave him in power during the first Gulf War. I don't doubt that he had chemical and biological weapons or, if not, the ability to get them quickly any time he wanted. But, as far as I could see, Iraq posed no imminent threat to the US. Two countries that did and do pose an imminent threat to the US are Saudi Arabia and North Korea, neither of which the US has done a thing about.

Mr. Bush said that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons and was prepared to use them. I believe that, and I think in the aftermath of 9/11 it was reasonable for the US to remove Mr. Hussein from power. What I don't understand is our priorities. Saudi Arabia was and is a much greater threat to US interests than Iraq ever has been. To the extent that Al Queda remains in being, it is a result of funding and support provided by Saudi Arabia. Why did we not flatten and occupy Saudi Arabia first? And, having failed to do so first, why have we still not done so?

North Korea is another issue entirely. If the Islamics threaten to unleash chemical and biological weapons, neither of which has ever succeeded in causing mass casualties on a widespread scale, what of the North Korean threat to unleash a nuclear holocaust? Even a green second lieutenant soon learns that one evaluates an enemy based on his capabilities, not on his perceived intentions. If an enemy can do something, one must assume that he will do it. There can be little doubt that North Korea has at least one fission device, and probably several. The capability is definitely there. But even if one judges on perceived intentions rather than capabilities, all of the available evidence suggests that North Korea intends to use these weapons. There can be no excuse for permitting a hostile nation-state that is known to possess nuclear weapons but not the means to deliver them to US targets to develop those means.

Mr. Bush says that negotiation with North Korea is the answer, but it's hard to see how that can be true. North Korea has never bargained in good faith, and there is no reason to suppose that they will do so now. If force was the answer for Iraq, that must be doubly true for North Korea. Iraq did not possess nuclear weapons, and was not threatening the US. North Korea does and is. Back in January, I suggested the proper action for the US to take.

Right now, we're losing a soldier a day in Iraq, to no particular purpose. We should simply occupy the Iraqi oil fields and terminals, which could be done with a minimal force. We can then pump oil to pay for our costs for the war and occupation, say 100 billion barrels or so over the next twenty to fifty years. Those forces currently in other areas of Iraq can be removed, and used to invade and occupy Saudi Arabia, where we can also begin pumping large amounts of oil. We could supply the entire domestic needs of the US, Britain, and our other allies at $1/barrel or so, selling the remainder on the world market at market prices. In addition to boosting the US and British economies dramatically, the inevitable fall in oil prices would benefit other nations as well. And at the same time, we'd be damaging the Islamics. Everyone wins, except of course the Islamics, who deserve what they get.

We should also immediately turn our attentions to North Korea. That's a lot simpler than the Persian Gulf, because North Korea has no resources we care about. We don't need anyone on the ground there. We can simply use our nuclear weapons to remove North Korea as a threat. To do that, we nuke every city, every town, every port, every industrial complex, every everything in North Korea. Of course, we can't leave two million North Korean soldiers on the border with South Korea, so we nuke them as well.

Iraq taught the wrong lesson to countries who would harm us. Devastating North Korea would teach the right lesson. Unfortunately, it's unlikely we'll teach them that lesson. Instead, we'll simply stand by while North Korea figures out how to duct tape their new fission devices to their ballistic missiles. A year or five from now, we'll be told that North Korea now has the ability to hit US targets with nuclear weapons. Won't that be wonderful?

12:36 - Oh, yeah. I meant to comment on the latest Fred on Everything column. I like Fred Reed. He usually makes a lot of sense. Of course, he's usually just stating the obvious, but stating the obvious on the topics he covers can be a dangerous thing to do.

On this week's topic, though, I have to disagree with Fred. It's pretty obvious that he's had a bad experience. Perhaps several of them. But extending his own experiences to arrive at what he purports to be a universal truth about American women is a bit much. I don't doubt that the kind of women he describes do exist. But while he graciously admits that there are exceptions, I think he has it backwards. The type of women he rails about are the exception, yes, even here in America. Of the hundreds of women I have known well over the years, none of them resemble what Fred paints as typical for American women.

I suspect what Fred really wants is deferential, subservient women, and I will concede that American women by and large do not fit that mold. Nor do I understand why anyone would want them to. I dislike such women, and I suspect I am not unusual in that respect. I like women who stand up for themselves, and there is no shortage of such women here in America.

Fred, I think, is one of those guys who prefers women to be barefoot and pregnant, and there is most definitely a shortage of American women willing to assume that role. Perhaps that's why Fred emigrated from the US.

13:21 - O'Reilly wants me to write an article or two for their web site, something PC hardware related. It's to be at least 800 words, but since the article will be published on the web running over isn't a problem. For the first edition, I wrote an article about burning CDs. For the second, I wrote an article entitled Revitalize Your PC. I'm not sure what to write about this time. I was thinking about doing an article about adding a DVD recorder, because writable DVD is getting to be a hot topic.

Is that a good topic, or would something else be better? Please let me know over on the messageboard or via email.





Tuesday, 22 July 2003

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12:18 - I'm getting ready to build a new personal system for myself. Not that I really need one. My current main office desktop system is a Pentium 4/1.7G with 512 MB of RAM, which suffices. The new one will be quite a bit faster, though. Here are the major components I plan to use:

Component Product
Case Antec PLUS1080AMG
Power Supply Antec TruePower True430
Motherboard Intel D875PBZ
Processor Intel 3.2 GHz Pentium 4
Memory Crucial 256 MB PC3200 DDR-SDRAM (X4)
Video Adapter Crucial RADEON 9100
Audio Adapter Turtle Beach Santa Cruz
Hard DIsk Maxtor 160 GB DiamondMax Plus 9 (P-ATA)
DVD Writer Plextor PX-504A

I actually have a pair of the Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 9 drives, and I want to do some RAID benchmarking with them before I break up the pair. Based on my past experience with Maxtor drives, I expect these DiamondMax Plus 9 drives to be a bit faster in many benchmarks than comparable Seagate drives, but also a bit louder. Reliability should be comparable.

I thought long and hard about the audio adapter. Jerry Pournelle built a similar system a month or so ago, and reported problems with the Santa Cruz related to audio synchronization during DVD playback. I'm not really expecting any problems, but if I encounter something I'll simply remove the Santa Cruz and install something else in its place.

Once I get the new system built, tested, and benchmarked (which may take a couple weeks or more), I'll do my standard build-out of Windows 2000 and applications. Once the system is configured to my satisfaction, my current Pentium 4/1.7 system will turn into a Windows XP test-bed system.

Mozilla 1.4 is driving me insane. Mail is the main problem. When I fire up Mail, it sometimes brings up an unpopulated screen. All of my messages and folders are gone. Usually, I can simply exit Mail and restart it to fix the problem, but sometimes I have to exit Mozilla completely (including Quick Launch) before I can see my messages and folders. This happens perhaps one time in ten that I start Mozilla Mail. At first, I though it was something specific to my office desktop system, but it exhibits the same behavior on Barbara's new system.

The other very aggravating thing about Mozilla Mail 1.4 is that it sometimes (but not always) continues to download mail in the background even when the Mail module isn't running. The only way to stop that behavior, short of turning off automatic retrieval entirely, is to close all instances of the Mozilla Browser. Ordinarily, this wouldn't bother me too much, but I've gotten in the habit of using Mozilla Mail on my den system to check mail when I'm not at my desk. I have the den system set to retrieve the mail but leave it on the server, so that my office desktop system always gets all the mail. With the way Mozilla Mail 1.4 behaves, I usually find no new mail when I check mail in the den.

Mozilla Browser 1.4 seems fine, with one exception. On the two newest (fastest) systems I run it on, Mozilla Browser 1.4 tends to mangle some sites. Sites that use scripting heavily (like cnn.com, foxnews.com, pcmagazine.com, etc.) often display pages with script code rendered rather than executed. That happens on my 1.7 GHz office system, but only rarely. On the newer systems, it happens more often than not. Sometimes reloading the page displays it correctly, but it sometimes takes several reloads to accomplish that. All three systems are running WebWasher, which may or may not have anything to do with the problem.

Our plumbers are here right now. Barbara noticed the other day that the toilet in the master bath was leaking. She peeled back the linoleum and found the underlying plywood drenched. The plumber tells me that the wood is still solid and the toilet itself is "rock solid", so it appears we caught the problem before it rotted out the plywood subfloor. They're also replacing the kitchen faucet, which had come loose from its mounting, and wiggles every time it's turned on or off. I crawled underneath the sink to look at it. There are two threaded mounting studs that protrude down through the sink and were secured with large nuts. Those nuts were rusting out. One had failed completely, which is what made the faucet wobbly. Jerry's son checked to see if he could simply replace the nuts, but when he attempted to remove the remnants of the old nuts, one of the studs snapped off. So it's a new kitchen faucet for us.

13:20 - While Jerry Edwards and I were waiting for his son to get back from the plumbing supply store, he told me some interesting stuff about plumbing fixtures. Apparently, Lowe's and Home Depot have such huge buying power, literally ordering stuff by the trainload, that they have been able to convince good manufacturers to put their brands on products made to Lowe's' or Home Depot specifications. As Jerry says, that's an interesting reversal from Sears, which buys products from first-rate makers like Whirlpool and puts the Sears Kenmore brand on them.

Jerry says he's compared seemingly identical fixtures bought at Lowe's or Home Depot to those sold by plumbing supply stores. Jerry mentioned one Delta faucet as an example. The one from the plumbing supply store weighs more than three pounds, and is made from chrome-plated solid brass. The one from the mass-market DIY place weighs about half a pound, and is made from chrome-plated plastic. Jerry says the exception is the expensive stuff, which Lowe's and Home Depot don't sell in enough volume to make it worth the manufacturers' while to make special versions. Those, Jerry says, are the same products as those sold in plumbing stores. But then he adds, "But the DIY places do sell a lot of seconds."

I won't buy anything at Lowe's, Home Depot, and similar places if I can avoid doing so. I remember when I was buying lumber for the shelves in my office. I went out to Lowe's and looked at what they had available. Even their best 1X10 boards didn't look very good to me. So Barbara and I went out to a mom-and-pop hardware/lumber place in Rural Hall. For about the same price, we got 1X10 boards that were about three grades better (literally) than what Lowe's was selling. I suspect the same is true for just about anything one wants to buy. Pay a little more, get a lot better product.



Wednesday, 23 July 2003

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8:26 - My apologies to Mozilla Browser 1.4. The rendering problems, at least, are not its fault. I'd tried some of the same sites in Internet Explorer 6 and they rendered normally. Then, last night, I started seeing the same problem with IE6. Obviously, it's WebWasher causing the problem. I wonder if it's possible for a machine to be too fast. The systems this problem manifests on are a Pentium 4/2.53G and a Pentium 4/2.8. The problem is not evident on any of the older, slower systems.

Last night, I came across something truly frightening. These folks have developed a Windows NT/2000/XP password cracker that can crack any alphameric password in five seconds (okay, ten seconds if the password is longer than seven characters). What's amazing is that this cracker doesn't require a Beowulf cluster or a supercomputer. It runs on an AMD Athlon XP 2500+ system with 1.5 GB of RAM. The really scary part is that they have posted a web page that allows you to enter an NT/2000/XP hash and after a five second wait get the corresponding password.

There is a fix, though. Change your NT'/2000/XP passwords that contain only numbers and letters so that they also include at least one other non-alphameric character. Their cracker won't crack such passwords. Obviously, that's an artificial limitation. They could just as easily have calculated their large lookup tables with those non-alphameric password characters included.

The real problem is that the method Microsoft uses to encrypt passwords is seriously flawed. Why am I not surprised?



Thursday, 24 July 2003

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12:45 - FedEx showed up with a couple copies of the third edition of PC Hardware in a Nutshell, so you know what I've been doing this morning...

15:13 - This InfoWorld article has some very bad news for Microsoft. It reports a survey of several hundred small and medium New York businesses, which found that 19% of those business are using Linux in some form ... on their desktops. Even if many of those businesses are only dabbling in desktop Linux, this is catastrophically bad news for Microsoft. Serverspace doesn't matter all that much to Microsoft. Sure, they'd like to own that market, just like they want to own every other market, but the crown jewels are desktop Windows and Office. Any threat to them is a deadly threat to Microsoft itself.

The fact that nearly one in five small and medium businesses are even thinking about desktop Linux, let alone actually deploying it, must terrify Microsoft. Think about it. First, SMB's are one of the least likely groups to be early adopters of desktop Linux. Second, the companies surveyed were in New York, and US businesses generally lag those in other countries in adopting Open Source Software. Linux is already deployed on millions of desktops worldwide, but only a small fraction of those are in the US. So, we have 19% penetration among the least likely adopters, and that in the country least likely to adopt OSS on the desktop. What must that say about Microsoft's long-term prospects for continuing to dominate the desktop, even in the US?

That's bad enough news from Microsoft's perspective, but the lurking danger is the critical mass thing. Once desktop Linux reaches critical mass, which various pundits have estimated as between 5% and 20% of all desktops, really bad things start to happen (from Microsoft's perspective). First, ISVs begin to see Linux as a viable desktop OS, which means they port their products to Linux. Second, Microsoft's proprietary data formats become much less important a factor, and when their "format lock-in" disappears, Microsoft is in very, very bad trouble.

I don't know how accurate that survey is, whether it's possible to extend it from the group surveyed to other groups, and so on. But if you'd asked me this morning to estimate Linux desktop market share, I'd have said something like 1% to 2%, both in terms of the percentage of desktops actually running Linux and in terms of the percentage of enterprises that use desktop Linux at all. That 19% figure is truly shocking. I would imagine the lights will be burning late tonight in Redmond.



Friday, 25 July 2003

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19:43 - I'll be signing off for at least the next several days. I don't know if I'll even have time to check my mail more than occasionally.

This morning we got a call from the nursing home, saying that my mother was experiencing severe stomach pains. We asked them to take her to Baptist Hospital, which is affiliated with Wake Forest University, and I would guess is the largest hospital between Washington, DC and Atlanta. We have been concerned about mom's mental state for the last three weeks. She's been extremely confused at times. At first, we suspected a UTI. They sent a urine sample in, which came back negative. Then we suspected dehydration, so for the last week or more I've been trying to convince mom to force fluids.

Last night, Barbara said she thought we should ask them to take mom to the hospital for a complete checkup. Mom called me yesterday evening, under the impression that my brother Bill had been over to visit her and that he'd come over to our house for materials to make himself a sandwich (sandwiches seem to feature heavily in her confused state recently.) I called to talk to the duty nurse, and we ended up talking about her medications. I knew that mom was able to request Xanax. We had asked for it to be prescribed, as had mom. When she was living with us, she took Xanax perhaps three or four times a month. I was shocked when the nurse told me that mom had taken Xanax before bed all but one day of the last three weeks. Given that one of the known side effects of Xanax in the elderly is confusion, we thought we'd finally figured out what was going on.

Then, before dawn this morning, the nursing home called to report mom's stomach pains. We listened to them on the answering machine, but they'd hung up before we could pick up. Barbara called them back, and they asked her what to do. Barbara said to take her to the hospital, and that we'd prefer Baptist Hospital to Forsyth Hospital.

When I got down there, the ER doctor told me that they'd run a CAT scan and that mom had air in her abdominal cavity. Air where there's supposed to be none is evidence of a perforation somewhere in the GI tract. They couldn't tell from the scan where the perforation was, but they suspected a duodenal ulcer. At this point, mom was awake and alert. The doctor explained to her that if she didn't have surgery, she'd die. Given her age and frailty, she could also die if she had surgery. Abdominal surgery is never trivial, and certainly not when the patient is 84 years old. I asked the surgeon what her chances were, and he said probably 50/50.

She went into surgery just before 1300, and was in there for about 90 minutes. That was good news. The surgeon said that she might be in from 45 minutes, if they found the problem right away, to as much as three or four hours if they had to go looking for it. Obviously, shorter is better. After she came out of surgery, they moved her to the ICU. We had to wait 30 minutes or so while they connected monitors and so on. At that point, she was doing better than they expected. Her vital signs were good, as was her color. The doctor warned us, though, that this was the calm before the storm. As he put it, her body hadn't yet fully realized the insult. He told us that he expected her blood pressure to drop, and that there was the possibility of infection. Basically, she had peritonitis, just as someone with a burst appendix does. Her situation was just as dangerous, exacerbated by her age, physical frailty, and the fact that she'd been ill for several weeks.

I am really upset with the nursing home doctor. We had repeatedly over the last three weeks told the nursing home staff that there was something wrong with mom, but the doctor didn't even bother to come to see her during that whole time. As Barbara said today, perhaps if the nursing home doctor had bothered to visit mom, she might have been able to do something before it came to this.

At any rate, we finally got in to see mom at about 1500, just as visiting hours were ending. They chased us out shortly thereafter. Barbara left to have dinner with her parents (today is her dad's 81st birthday), and my brother went back to our house to rest a bit and eat. I stuck around for the 1700 - 1800 visiting hours. When I got there, the ICU nurse told me that mom was doing a lot worse since we'd last seen her. Her blood pressure was the main concern. They had her tilted so that her head was lower than the rest of her body, and were administering IV fluids. I sat there for 45 minutes, watching her blood pressure on the monitor. It was 74/34, give or take one or two points. I talked to her, although I don't know if she could here me, telling her that the doctors and nurses were doing everything they could, but that they needed her help. I asked her to concentrate on getting her blood pressure back up. I know that's stupid, because blood pressure isn't supposed to be under conscious control, but I figured every little bit might help.

Around 1745, they administered a drug to help increase her blood pressure. I sat there, alone with mom, watching the monitor. It quickly dropped from the 74/34 level down and down and down. When it hit 56/26, I went over and told someone I was getting concerned because her blood pressure before, if not high, was at least stable, and now it appeared to be dropping by the minute. They agreed, and decided to start an epinephrine drip. That worked wonders within less than a minute. Her blood pressure was up to 90/45, still low, but a lot better than it had been.

At that point, I had to leave. The next visiting period is 20:15 to 21:30, and my brother is going to go down and visit her then. He'll also visit her in the morning. Barbara and I will go over to the nursing home and clear her stuff out. They'll only hold a room for three days, and mom will be in the ICU longer than that. My guess is that she'll be in the hospital for at least two or three weeks, assuming she survives.

The next few days will decide. As I was getting ready to leave, the doctor told me that she was stable now, but that this was the calm before the storm. He said that she'll be in for a rough ride over the next few days, with the possibility of lung involvement, infections, and so on. Mom is tough, but she is 84, and she has very few resources left to fight with. At this point, Barbara and I are hoping for the best, but expecting the worst.



Saturday, 26 July 2003

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15:52 - Mom is doing a bit better. My brother stayed over with us last night, and went over to visit mom during the 9:30 to 10:30 visiting hours. He planned to head back to Raleigh directly from there, and said he'd call if there had been any change. He didn't call, so apparently there wasn't. While Bill was visiting mom, we went over to the nursing home to clear her stuff out. If she does recover, it may be a month or more before she'll be ready to return to a nursing home, and they won't hold her bed for more than three days.

Barbara went down to do the 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. visit. I was expecting mom to still be unconscious, but when Barbara came home she said mom had been awake, alert, and irritable. That's very good news. Frankly, we were afraid she might never wake up. Barbara says that mom was trying to talk to her, but she was so weak that she couldn't speak loudly enough for Barbara to understand her. Mom doesn't like the monitor clamped to her finger, and apparently was pulling it off. They ended up clamping it to her toe. I was very pleased to hear that she was being ornery. That's a good sign. Barbara said her blood pressure was up to normal levels as well. Mom is not over the hump by any means, but we're pleased at her progress so far.

I'll head down to do the 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. visit, and stick around for the 8:15 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. visiting hours as well. I'll tell mom about the messages I've gotten wishing her well, which have originated from every continent except Antarctica. Thanks to everyone who's sent me mail. I'm reading all of them, but don't have time to respond. Things are a bit hectic around here, as you might imagine.



Sunday, 27 July 2003

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