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Week of 12 January 2004

Latest Update : Sunday, 18 January 2004 10:10 -0500


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Monday, 12 January 2004

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8:11 - Heads-down writing all week, so posts are going to be sporadic and short.

Steve Childers, one of our regular observing buddies, ordered a Coronado Instruments H-alpha Solar filter. He's waiting impatiently for it to arrive, and the rest of us are hanging like vultures over his shoulder. Many of us have Solar filters, but they're simple neutral density filters made of Baader film, which transmits only 1/10,000th of the light that strikes it. Those filters are fine for observing sunspots and so on, but they don't reveal details like Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), which the H-alpha filter does. Steve is going to be a very popular guy once his new filter arrives.

Speaking of Baader film, I need to order some for WSAL members who don't have Solar filters. On 8 June, Venus transits the Solar disk, which is a twice in a lifetime event, if you happen to be born at the right time, and a zero in a lifetime event otherwise. The Venus transit has occurred only six times since the invention of the telescope, and no one saw the first one. Since Galileo's time, the Venus transit has occurred in 1631, 1639, 1761, 1769, 1874 and 1882. We plan to observe the 8 June 2004 transit and the 6 June 2012 transit. Everyone now alive will be dead before the next one.

From Winston-Salem, the transit will be well underway at sunrise. Many astronomers who can afford the time and cost to do so will be traveling to Europe or Africa to see the full transit. We'll keep a careful eye on the weather forecasts. If it's to be clear locally, we'll probably observe it from near Winston-Salem. If clouds are forecast, we may well travel to somewhere with clear skies forecast.

 

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Tuesday, 13 January 2004

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9:04 - Still heads-down writing...

I'm hoping to have a Prescott soon. Rumor has it that Intel will ship Prescott the end of this month or the first of next, and I expect it will quickly replace the Northwood Pentium 4 for mainstream applications. I expect Gallatin (the P4 Extreme Edition, a relabeled Xeon) to remain as Intel's top-performance processor. It's amazing what 2MB of L3 cache can do for performance. AMD has no real answer to Gallatin, and they aren't likely to for some time.

Prescott is likely to be an interesting processor. Just as Intel increased pipeline depth when they moved from the Pentium 3 to the Pentium 4, they'll do the same from Northwood to Prescott. The upside of that is that it allows them to increase the core clock speed. The downside is two-fold: the number of instructions-per-clock (IPC), falls, which means that a Prescott running at a given clock speed will do less work than a Northwood running at the same speed. Also, the deeper the pipeline, the more disastrous a pipeline stall is for throughput.

I'm sure Intel will take a lot of heat about Prescott being "slower" than Northwood, just as they did about the Pentium 4 being "slower" than the Pentium 3. As I said back then, it really doesn't make any difference, as long as Intel can crank out Prescotts with faster and faster core clocks. Look what happened to the Athlon XP, which is fundamentally a sixth-generation processor. The Athlon XP is very efficient in terms of IPC, comparable to the Pentium 3. But its architecture limited how fast it could be clocked, and Intel simply produced faster and faster Pentium 4 Northwoods until the Athlon could no longer compete.

I have no idea what the relative performance levels will be like when the Northwood and Prescott are compared. It wouldn't surprise me if Prescott needed to run at 2.8 GHz to match a 2.6 GHz Northwood, for example. So I expect Intel will price Prescott at surprisingly low levels relative to its clock speed. Overall, price/performance will probably be similar for Northwood and Prescott, at least initially, but of course people buy clock speed, as AMD found out. So, given a "faster" Prescott priced the same as a "slower" Northwood, guess which one people are going to buy?

As for pipeline stalls, I'm guessing that Intel has made some significant improvements to their branch prediction unit, but I have no data on that.

14:15 - There must be a word for it. Synchronicity, perhaps? I was searching the web for stuff on the 8 June Venus transit, when I came across this page from Down Under, titled "Paul and Arlene's Excellent Travel Adventures". How interesting, I thought. My friend Paul Robichaux's wife's name is Arlene. Then as I scrolled down to the mail-to link, I realized that this Paul also had the surname Robichaux. I was flabbergasted. I wondered if Paul knew there was an Australian with his name who, incredibly, was also married to a woman named Arlene. I was actually getting ready to email my friend Paul to let him know of this incredible coincidence when I scrolled to the picture of Paul and Arlene and realized that both Pauls were the same person. I guess what caused my momentary confusion was not so much that Paul and Arlene had traveled to Australia without my noticing as that Paul was writing about the Venus transit, which took my mind completely out of context.

Paul maintains Paul's Down-Home Page, an interesting blog that I added to my own daily bookmarks page some time ago. His blog is subtitled "Cajun. Mormon. Marine.", so you don't want him mad at you. You better go check it out now before he finds out you've not been reading it.

 

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Wednesday, 14 January 2004

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9:51 - The Scottish Attack Squirrel of Death. If it isn't true, it should be. As someone who used to ride a Honda 750F, I believe him. I was attacked two or three times by dogs. Not as in, "Oh, look, there's a motorcycle. I think I'll run alongside it barking." As in, "Oh, look. There's a tasty-looking motorcyclist. I think I'll chase him down, drag him off his bike, kill and eat him."

I was also attacked once by an enraged bird. That may sound funny, but it's no joke. It was springtime, and I suspect that in her tiny little birdbrain she thought I was a danger to her babies. She kept bashing into my helmet and faceplate so ferociously that I almost dropped the bike. It got so bad that I was seriously considering trying to shoot her--I wonder what a .45 ACP 230 grain hardball would have done to a bird--when I got off the gravel and was able to accelerate away. I never went that way again.

Heh. Turnabout is fair play. The RIAA insists on getting every cent in royalties they think they're entitled to and more. Apparently bored with suing 12-year-old girls for thousands of dollars, their newest gimmick is dressing up RIAA staff as fake cops--handcuffs, tactical jackets and all--and bust people for selling CDs on street corners. I am not making this up. I wonder what they shout when they surround one of those evil street vendors. Probably, "Freeze! It's the Music Police!"

So I took great joy in reading this article. Apparently, the RIAA pays music publishers and songwriters a pittance for the right to use their material. It's a fixed pittance, too, rather than a percentage of revenue. But the agreements state that RIAA pays that pittance for each physical copy of the music. The new copy-protected CDs have at least two physical copies of each song, one accessible only to DRM-equipped players, and the other a low-res version for computers. The music publishers and songwriters are arguing that they're entitled to be paid twice when a song physically appears twice in different formats on the same disc. Go for it, I say.

The music companies have been producing these copy-protected discs with multiple copies of each track by the millions, and paying royalties only for one copy. Their current liability, if courts decide in favor of the music publishers and songwriters, is in the tens of millions of dollars, and growing every day. I think I join nearly everyone in hoping the RIAA gets handed its head on a platter.

I laughed at a Darlism in this story. Mr. McBride, speaking of SCO Unix, says, "It's like a Sherman tank..." A Sherman tank, eh, Darl? Interesting that Darl compares his flagship product to a creaking antique death-trap that wouldn't last a second on the battlefield against modern competition. Yes, Darl, Linux is an Abrams main battle tank, and your OS is a Sherman medium tank, a rattling pile of junk that was obsolete decades ago.

Actually, the real Sherman tank was a death-trap even in its heyday. I remember talking to a WWII tanker about how his Sherman compared to the Nazi tanks he faced. It didn't, he said. The Sherman was undergunned even against the PzKw (Panzerkampfwagen) IV, and had no chance against the PzKw VI Tiger or Tiger II. They counted their blessings, he said, that Tigers were rare, unreliable, and more likely to be used defensively as semi-mobile pillboxes than in tank battles. The PzKw V Panther was another story. He said he and all of his tanker buddies were terrified of Panthers. The Panther could and did kill Shermans at very long range, while the Sherman had great difficulty killing a Panther, even with a point-blank shot into one of its less heavily armored areas. Face to face, it was no contest at all.

About the best you could say about the Sherman was that it didn't break down often, so perhaps Darl was really only claiming that his OS doesn't crash as often as Windows does. Still, Darl chooses to compare SCO's OS with a piece of junk that was obsolete decades ago, and by doing so tells his readers that choosing SCO is a suicidal decision. Darl so rarely tells the truth that it was refreshing to see him do so for once.

 

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Thursday, 15 January 2004

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8:40 - I think the next project system I'll build is the "SOHO Server". That box will be Linux all the way. I have a personal motivation for doing that box next. Our current primary file server, theodore, runs Windows NT Server 4. It's been around so long that the main hard drive is a Maxtor 10 GB, although that drive is mirrored to, IIRC, an 80 GB Seagate. Unfortunately, theodore is starting to show its age, and I think it's about time I replaced it.

I'm debating how to configure it. I may build a standard server, which is to say a tower case with tape drive and so on. Alternatively, I may build an "appliance" box in a micro-ATX case with a couple of mirrored S-ATA drives and nothing much else. If I go that route, I'd need only basic video for setup and configuration. I could manage the box from one of the desktop systems and back it up to one of the desktops that has a tape drive. Heck, I'd even consider mini-ITX except that I don't trust VIA chipsets even for things that don't matter much, let alone for a server. I'll probably go with an Intel micro-ATX board, although the jury is still out.

 

 

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Friday, 16 January 2004

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9:32 - I sent off a chapter fragment to my editor yesterday. It's Building a Kick-Ass LAN Party PC, and it's posted for download on the Subscriber page. I say "fragment" because it has no images and is missing the major section on actually building the system. Still, you may find it interesting. I didn't use the term "Kick-Ass" lightly, either. This thing has a $500 video card and a $1,000 processor.

My editor tells me that reading my stuff is dangerous to his financial heath. Every time he reads another chapter, he wants to run out and buy the stuff to build the system he just read about.

I'm getting started on the SOHO Server chapter now. It'll be a Linux box from the ground up.

 

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Saturday, 17 January 2004

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Sunday, 18 January 2004

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10:10 - Ordinarily, we make real popcorn, but we bought a large box of microwave popcorn from the Boy Scouts. I experimented to determine how long and at what setting we should nuke microwave popcorn. It turned out to be 4:20 at 70% power. Last night, I nuked myself a bag for 4:20, but forget to set the microwave to 70%. The result of nuking a bag of microwave popcorn for 4:20 at 100% is not pretty. When I opened the oven, clouds of black smoke roiled out. The bag hadn't quite caught fire, but it was a near thing.

We opened the kitchen window and the back and front doors and turned on the whole-house exhaust fan to suck out all the smoke. That's only the second time we've used the whole-house exhaust fan in the 17 years we've lived here. The first time was not long after we moved in. Barbara's and my parents were visiting, and for some reason I decided to fire up the whole-house exhaust fan. It sucked open the glass doors on the fireplace and sucked all the ashes out of the fireplace and into the air. It sucked the newspaper off Barbara's end table in the den and down the hall, followed by a stack of magazines and a couple of books.  Barbara's father grabbed her mother to prevent her from being sucked down the hall and out through the fan.

This time, we made sure to open doors and windows first. Once Barbara shouted that the doors and windows were open, I grabbed onto the door frame (just in case) and powered up the exhaust fan. Clouds of smoke came rolling down the hall and up into the exhaust fan. We only had the kitchen window open a few inches, and there was a gale coming through it. When after a few minutes we closed the doors the gale became stronger.

I'm not sure how many horsepower that exhaust fan motor has, but it's something Tim Taylor could have used on Tool Time.

 

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