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Week of 5 January 2004

Latest Update : Thursday, 15 January 2004 11:35 -0500


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Monday, 5 January 2004

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8:31 - Linux continues to frustrate me, but I'm sticking with it.

I'd been using the den system quite happily in standalone mode. Then I decided it was time to set up Samba so that the Linux box could access my Windows network. That was when I encountered the first problem. I'd installed Fedora Core 1 in Desktop PC mode, and apparently that option doesn't install Samba, incredible as that seems. So off I went to the Samba site and downloaded the latest Samba RPMs for Fedora Core.

I installed the Samba client successfully, modified fstab to add smbfs entries for a couple of the shares on the Windows network, and rebooted the Linux box. It locked up during the boot and simply refused to go any further. I tried restarting the system and choosing "I" for interactive mode during the next reboot, but Fedora Core wouldn't accept the keystroke and simply continued to the point where it had locked up before.

After mucking about with it for quite some time, I decided the easiest thing to do was re-install. I did that, and I'm back to where I was originally, but this time with Samba server and client installed from the CDs. The only problem now is that I still can't make the Linux box see my Windows network. I know it's possible. I did it before under Red Hat 8. I even wrote down what I did, but when I tried doing that this time it simply doesn't work.

Wouldn't you think that wanting to access a Windows network from a Linux desktop would be a common enough thing that there'd at least be a page with detailed instructions for doing so? If there is one, I can't find it. Actually, even having to do that is ridiculous. It'd be easy enough for the Linux installer to detect the presence of a Windows network and set things up automatically, or so I'd think.

So, at this point, my den Linux system is working fine for email, web browsing, and the other stuff I do regularly, but I can't get it connected to my Windows network. That sucks.

 

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Tuesday, 6 January 2004

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9:39 - Heads-down writing all week this week, so updates here are likely to be sporadic and short. Barbara has invited one of the young women she works with to have dinner here tomorrow night. Kirsten is a gamer, and I plan to ask her lots of questions about gaming. Barbara doesn't play games much at all, and I can't make it past the first level of Tux Racer, so I needed to talk to someone who is really into games.

We also have a public observation this week, tied in with the Mars landings. I think the public will be disappointed with the views of Mars. Right now, Mars is about 8 arcseconds in apparent size, which is to say about 1/225th the apparent size of the full moon. Or, in other words, if we use 225X magnification, Mars will appear to be about the size of the full moon viewed naked eye. Not an impressive sight for non-astronomers.

Fortunately, Saturn is up, as is M42, the Great Nebula in Orion. Those, along with Luna itself and several impressive star clusters like M36/M37/M38 in Auriga and M44 (the Beehive Cluster) in Cancer, will at least give us something to show people who come to the session. Assuming, that is, the clouds don't intervene, which right now looks likely. It's also going to be chilly, with lows in the lower 20's Fahrenheit (~ -5C).

Neither Barbara nor I particularly enjoys attending these public observation sessions, but we do it as a way of "paying forward" in the hopes that we'll interest at least one child in science and astronomy. I think back to when I was a kid and adults were showing me the night sky, and I realize that some of them probably didn't particularly enjoy that activity either. But they did it, and we'll do it. If there's just one kid who develops an interest in science as a result of our efforts, it'll be worth it.

12:34 - Fred Reed has posted another of his sensible columns. I wonder how many among those who read it will appreciate the distinctions between the word pairs he lists. He didn't mention one of my favorites. I knew a woman who periodically announced, "I feel nauseous". I always replied, "You are", but she never twigged. Used correctly, "nauseous" means "causing nausea". The word she meant to use was "nauseated". Alas, "nauseous" is one of those words that is becoming perverted by common usage. Nowadays, it is as likely to be used, even by educated speakers, to mean "feeling nauseated" rather than "causing nausea". "Nauseated" is seldom used nowadays, with "nauseous" taking its place and "nauseating" now used to mean "causing nausea". Oh, well. Another perfectly good word down the drain.

Our so-called schools no longer teach children such fundamental topics as the parts of speech and how to diagram a sentence. I wonder how much further language skills can degenerate before this society devolves into a mass of savages unable to communicate anything but the simplest thoughts. Grunt once for yes, twice for no.

I suppose that home schooling offers some hope, but our public schools have been so bad for so long that many of the parents who teach their children at home are themselves poorly educated. The inability of our public schools to teach is frightening enough, but what really terrifies me is that the textbooks themselves have been gutted. Even an excellent teacher in an excellent school cannot teach successfully if the textbooks and other raw materials of learning are dumbed-down so far as to be useless. Ultimately, the only solution may be to use textbooks and lesson plans published 50 years ago.

It is clear to anyone who takes the time to notice that public schools have failed and are no longer salvageable. The cost of public schools is grossly excessive, and their performance is dismal. Increasing funding of public schools is simply throwing good money after bad. The answer is to overhaul the system completely. Eliminate federal and state interference in public education and return it to the local level. Force public schools to compete by providing alternatives such as charter schools and education vouchers.

Curb the power of the NEA and other special-interest groups by eliminating certification requirements for teachers. The only criteria that should be considered when hiring a teacher are that person's knowledge of the subject matter and his ability to teach. For example, three of the people in our astronomy club hold Ph.D.'s in Chemistry. Two of them are professors, one at Wake Forest University and the other at Bowman Gray School of Medicine. One works in industry. None of them is qualified to teach an elementary school science class, let alone a high school chemistry class. I'm not qualified to teach a basic PC class. What's wrong with this picture?

There's little hope as long as the federal and state governments and the teachers' unions have their claws into public school systems. That won't be easy to change, unfortunately. But change it must if the next generation and the one after that are to be educated to any reasonable standard.

 

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Wednesday, 7 January 2004

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9:03 - I see that Brasil is now singling out US citizens to be fingerprinted and photographed as they enter the country. On the face of it, that seems a reasonable quid pro quo. It's not, of course. Brasil did not lose thousands of its citizens to Islamic terror attacks, as did the US, nor is Brasil targeted by Muslim terrorists, as is the US.

Brasilians who visit the US are unfortunate victims of the Political Correctness that runs rampant here, so in that respect they are entitled to be angry. No one I know seriously suspects Brasilians as likely threats to the US. What we should do, of course, is focus on young men of Islamic or Middle Eastern appearance, but that would be "discriminatory" and "profiling". God forbid. In fact, what we should do is deny such people entry the US and expel any who are already here.

As far as I am concerned, all Muslims, including US citizens, are suspects, and should be treated as such. The US is at war with Islam, although politicians are afraid to admit it. In fact, the entire West is at war with Islam, as we have been for more than a thousand years now. It is insane to allow Muslims free access. It is insane to allow Muslims to remain in the US at all. On September 12th, we should have begun rounding up Muslims and expelling them. All of them, from the Saudi Arabian ambassador down to the illegals that have sneaked in.

After some reasonable period of time, say two weeks, we should have announced that any Muslims still present in the US were outlaws, in the original sense of the word. Any Muslim found after that time could be presumed to be a terrorist, and could be summarily shot by anyone, including civilians. The government should have put a price on their heads to encourage everyone to be alert. As to Muslims who were US citizens, that could reasonably be regarded as treason. Any citizen who repudiated Islam would be welcome to remain after passing a reasonable test. I suggested earlier eating a ham sandwich and pissing on a copy of the Koran.

Instead, the US allows Muslims free access, and the FBI is reduced to suggesting that we all keep an eye out for people carrying almanacs. Not Muslims carrying almanacs, mind you, but just people. Incredibly, there are still Muslims in the US armed forces, including in the intelligence branches and other sensitive positions. There are Muslims working in trusted positions in the FBI and CIA. And the politicians do nothing because they are terrified of being accused of discrimination or profiling.

I'm afraid it will take a nuke being detonated in a US city to force the US to come to its senses. The hands-off approach we're taking to Muslims makes it much more likely that or something similar will eventually happen. It's a hell of note that we as a society are willing to risk a mushroom cloud over New York or Boston or Atlanta or Los Angeles or Washington or Dallas or Chicago to avoid violating the precepts of Political Correctness.

11:31 - Someone took me to task over on the messageboard, ending his post, "I cannot imagine what is next. White Supremacy ranting?" I replied:

Bullshit.

It shouldn't be necessary to say, but there is a huge chasm between what I suggested and your despicable comment about white supremacy.

In case you hadn't noticed, there is a difference between inherent characteristics, such as skin color, and assumed characteristics, such as religion. We are born with our skin color. Some of us choose to assume a religion.

Islam as a religion declared war on the West a thousand years ago. Two years ago, Islam as a religion was responsible for the slaughter of thousands of innocent US citizens. Muslims happily lie about it, but the fact is that Islam is implacable. The goal of Islam is to kill or enslave those who are not Islamic. Period.

Someone who chooses to become an Islamic is no different in my estimation than someone who chose to become a Nazi. And declaring all Islamics the enemy is no different than declaring all Nazis the enemy.

I do not understand how anyone can in good conscience remain Muslim after 9/11. It can't be ignorance. I've read the Koran, and the goals of Islam are there for anyone to see. Islam has been misrepresented as a religion of peace, but nothing could be further from the truth. Islam is inarguably a religion of the sword. Its stated goal is to sweep the world, killing or enslaving those who are not Islamic. That's not my opinion, it's fact. And it's clear to anyone who takes the time to look. So, given that the goal of Islam is to kill or enslave me, am I being unreasonable in declaring Islam the enemy? I think not.

 

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Thursday, 8 January 2004

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8:30 - There was a very strange crime report in the paper this morning. The crime occurred at the Reynolda Manor Branch Library, about a mile from our home. At 9:08 Tuesday evening, just as the library was closing, a woman who was just about to get into her car was accosted by a man with a pistol. He forced her to unlock the car, got into the back seat, and ordered her into the driver's seat. Apparently another man leaving the library saw what was happening and dialed 911 on his cell phone. The police showed up moments later and captured the man. He's in jail, charged with attempted kidnapping and attempted first-degree rape, with bail set at $10,500.

There are at least two odd aspects to this story. First, on what basis was the attacker charged with attempted first-degree rape? As far as the story reports, there was no such attempt. He accosted her at gunpoint and forced her to unlock her car. No attempted rape there that I can see. He then got into the back seat and ordered her into the front seat. No attempted rape there, either. He then apparently fled shortly before the police arrived. No attempted rape there, either. I guess they must have charged him with attempted first-degree rape because they thought that was what he planned to do. Pretty strange, if true.

The second odd thing is the bail amount, $10,500. Usually when the paper publishes bail amounts they're rounder figures--$10,000, $20,000, $50,000, $250,000, whatever. I wonder what was going through the judge's mind. Perhaps something like, "Maybe $10,000 isn't quite enough to make sure this guy shows up for trial. I'd better make it $10,500." Which begs the question, why was the bail set so low? I've seen bail set higher for people charged with shoplifting, literally. This guy is charged with two violent felonies. He could and probably should be sentenced to life in prison. And the judge sets bail at $10,500? Something is wrong here.

Barbara invited one of her coworkers, Kirsten Martinson, to dinner last night. Kirsten is a interesting woman. She's about 30, has a Ph.D. in Psychology from Durham University in Britain, and is an avid PC gamer. She lives in Elkin, which is in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains an hour or so from here, in a home with some land. We spent the evening talking about gaming, with Malcolm in her lap much of the time. Kirsten likes sims and adventure games rather than first-person shooters, and is attracted to realistic graphics.

I demonstrated my gaming prowess to Kirsten by running Tux Racer on my den system. Up until last night, I'd never been able to win the first level at Tux Racer. While Kirsten and Barbara were back in Barbara's office I finally realized that I'd been using only the left- and right-arrow keys, assuming that Tux was kind of like a Soapbox Derby racer--nothing but gravity assist. The first level of Tux Racer requires scarfing 23 herring and crossing the finish line in 35 seconds or less. No matter how hard I tried, I could get the 23 herring, but the best time I could get was about 36 seconds. When I realized I could speed up Tux by clicking the up-arrow key repeatedly, I was able to get all 23 herring and cross the finish line in 28 seconds. Clicking the down-arrow key slows Tux down, too, which is necessary to make some of the tight turns. So I made it through the first three levels last night with no problems. Amazing how much easier it is when I can accelerate or decelerate. Duh.

 

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Friday, 9 January 2004

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7:53 - No public observation tonight. FAS and SciWorks were sponsoring a public Mars observation tonight in conjunction with the Mars landings, although many of us in FAS thought it was a dumb idea from the start. The public wasn't impressed by Mars in late August, when it was closer than it had been in thousands of years. At that time, its apparent size was about 25 arcseconds. If the public thought it was too tiny to bother looking at then, I know what they'd think now that it's down to about 8 arcseconds. It's moot anyway, because we awoke this morning to snow, which is to continue all day. Tonight is to be cloudy, so there won't be any reason to hold the public observation.

Barbara went to her Friends of the Library meeting yesterday, and found out the truth about what happened there Tuesday evening. She said that what the newspaper reported bore no relation to reality, which doesn't surprise me. I remember Robert Heinlein saying that he'd been present at nine events that were subsequently reported by Time magazine, and not once did what they reported correspond to what he'd seen with his own eyes.

At any rate, I'm not sure I got the full story straight, but basically the facts were these: a young man who lives across the street from us is a page at the Reynolda Manor Branch Library. He was working Tuesday evening, and his girlfriend was in the library using one of the public computers. The guy who was subsequently arrested was sitting across from her using another of the public computers. When closing time approached, she left the library and he followed her out into the parking lot, where he pulled a gun on her. She ran to the side door, which is an industrial steel door used only by the staff, and started pounding on it, yelling that there was a guy with a gun trying to get her. I think it was her boyfriend, the page, who opened the door and let her in. He saw the guy with the gun coming towards them and slammed the door and locked it. The gunman then walked around to the front door, which another staff member was in the process of locking. She'd heard the commotion, and hurriedly locked him out. The library staff called 911, and the police showed up very quickly. They found the guy with the gun waiting for them in the parking lot and arrested him.

In addition to the pistol, he had handcuffs. That's the only reason we can think of that they charged him with attempted rape, although that seems a bit presumptive. They've set bail at $100,000, although it's not clear to me if the newspaper misreported the bail as $10,500 originally or if they subsequently increased his bail. The young woman and everyone else involved is unhurt.

Barbara says that one of the women at the Friends of the Reynolda Branch Library meeting kept repeating that they had to do something. Her daughter uses the library and she's concerned about her safety. I understand her concern, but I wonder what she'd suggest be done. As I've said in the past, the only solution to the random gunman problem is to eliminate laws against carrying a concealed weapon and to pass Good Samaritan laws to make sure that an armed bystander who intervenes in such a situation is held legally and financially harmless. That way, there's an excellent chance that one or more of the bystanders will be armed and able to deal with the criminal on the spot. Short of that, it will always be a wolf/sheep situation, and the sheep are usually going to pay the price.

Don't expect much around here for the rest of the month. I have a 28 January deadline, and I'm going to have to write my ass off to meet it.

16:09 - Thelma and Louise.

 

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Saturday, 10 January 2004

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10:05 - The weather around here is very strange. A week ago today, we reached 77º F (~ 25º C) here. Then a cold front moved through, and a couple days later the low was 19º F (~ -7º C). The forecast last night said tonight's low would be 11º F (~ -12º C). Temperature swings of more than 60º F (35º C) over a short period are distressingly common this time of year.

Something is wrong with our Internet connection, and I can't figure out what. It's been going on for several weeks, and seems to be intermittent. It's getting worse, though. At first I thought it was a DNS problem. Roadrunner isn't very good at keeping their servers running. I gave up on their mail servers entirely, and use other servers for SMTP and POP. Their DHCP server used to go down frequently, which was a pain in the butt because it issued short lease periods. At least I haven't had problems with that lately. But when I started to have problems resolving web sites or even my email server, I figured Roadrunner was at it again and their DNS servers were flaky.

That turned out not to be the case. I tried pointing to other DNS servers and still had the same problems. But it's not limited to DNS. Sometimes our throughput is truly pathetic--as slow as dial up. But other times everything works normally. The other day I downloaded an ISO at 350+ KB/s, for example.

The problem isn't client-side, because it happens on all of them. At first I thought something about my den Linux system might have been causing the problem, because it first showed up just when I brought that system up. Also, when I originally installed Linux on that system, I accepted the default choice of using a DHCP client to get TCP/IP parameters. That screwed things up big-time, because the Linux box used the same address that the DHCP server had assigned to Barbara's Windows 2000 system. When I re-installed Linux, I assigned a static IP address, which solved the problem.

At any rate, on the suspicion that something still wasn't right with the Linux box, I powered it down the other day and kept my fingers crossed. The problems persisted, which eliminates the Linux box as a possible culprit. I next rebooted the Linux border router, but that didn't help either. At this point, I'm not sure what's wrong. I think the problem is with Roadrunner, but I can't swear there's not something wrong with my Linux border router. That's the problem with not knowing much about Linux. I have no idea where to start troubleshooting it. I may end up going down to Best Buy or Wal*Mart and buying a baby router to replace it.

 

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Sunday, 11 January 2004

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