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Week of 23 February 2004

Latest Update : Friday, 27 February 2004 15:27 -0500

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Monday, 23 February 2004

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8:47 - Barbara and I were finally able to get out for an observing session Saturday night. Our friends Steve Childers and Paul Jones were also there, as were several guests. We had the kind of session that one expects after a long layoff. But at least we were out there, and all of us managed to bag at least some objects. We observed from our Walnut Cove site, which has treelines that screen the observing field from the wind. As it turned out, that was a fortunate choice, because it was quite breezy elsewhere but relatively calm where we set up. Conditions were clear albeit with poor seeing and only moderate transparency from the end of astronomical twilight at 1934 through about 2030, when serious clouds began to roll in.

Barbara and I began work on the Herschel 400 in the constellation Lepus, which we cleaned. (Granted, there's only one H400 object in Lepus.) We then decided to finish Andromeda, but of the three objects we had remaining only NGC 891 was above the treeline. Paul and Steve worked various DSOs, trying to work around the clouds.

Around 2100, Paul and I decided to see if we could bag McNeil's Nebula, the newly discovered object near M78 in Orion, which lies a few arcminutes SW of M78 just off the line from NGC 2071 through NGC 2068 (M78). We were able to see, with great difficulty, a tiny fan-shaped nebular patch extending from a relatively bright star at the point toward M78. We were pretty sure we'd seen McNeil's Nebula, but didn't want to log it until we got home and were able to verify our sighting with photographs and other resources on the Internet. Yesterday morning, we confirmed that we had indeed seen McNeil's Nebula and so logged it.

11:34 - Thanks to subscriber Larry McGinn, who posted the following on the messageboard:

Microsoft is taking orders for a patch cd that contains all patches, (up to October 2003 it currently says) for Windows 98, Windows 98 SE, Windows ME, Windows 2000, Windows XP, as well as firewall and antivirus trialware (I'm not sure what they will include here).

Really good for when you have to format and reinstall, for at least getting past the blaster patch so you can safely get back online and get the rest of the patches.


I just ordered mine. They want an email address and your name and mailing address, but there's no charge at all for the CD.

13:57 - Hmmm. My subscriber mailing list was pretty clean for a while, but now I'm getting some bounces. If one of these is your address, please send me updated information.

<gcjtimm at cox dot net>: host mx.west.cox.net[] said: 550 Invalid recipient:

<BAlferow at basex dot com>: Name service error for basex.com: Host found but no data record of requested type

<niteowl at pcisys dot net>: host mail.pcisys.net[] said: 550 5.1.1 ... User unknown

I also got one mailbox-full error:

Message "[RBT] Free Microsoft patch CD available on request", sent at 11:34 EST on 23-Feb-04, could not be delivered to jack_jacobson at 11:34 EST on 23-Feb-04 because the recipient mailbox is full.



Tuesday, 24 February 2004

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10:59 - In the be-careful-what-you-wish-for department, the movie industry succeeded in convincing a judge to order 321 Studios to stop distributing DVD backup programs that include CSS descrambling. Bizarrely, while acknowledging that people who have purchased DVDs have a Fair Use right to back up those DVDs, the judge says that the tools necessary to do so violate copyright law. Judge Susan Illston, in a tortured application of legal logic (now there's an oxymoron), ruled that " ... Legal downstream use of the copyrighted material by customers is not a defense to the software manufacturer's violation of the provisions (of copyright law)." MPAA Chief Executive Officer Jack Valenti claimed that DVD owners have no right to make backup copies of the DVDs they've purchased. His solution for those who want a backup copy? Buy another copy.

321 Studios immediately announced their intention to comply with the judge's order. In the next week or so, they'll ship a modified version of their software that no longer includes CSS descrambling. Now, users will have to download the DeCSS functionality from the Internet, where it's easy enough to find. But 321 Studios is making a few other changes to the software. The current version adds an FBI-like no-copying warning to copies, watermarks copies, and implements a serial copy control system that prohibits copying a copy. The new version won't have any of those features. Nyah, nyah. What a well-deserved kick in the teeth for the movie industry.



Wednesday, 25 February 2004

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7:44 - Crunch time. I got email from my editor last night. He wanted to know if I could get to 100% completion before 1 April, which isn't long. I told him I'd do my best. I now have all the chapters in progress, but much work remains to be done, so it'll be heads-down writing from now until the first of April, followed by tax time. That means updates around here will be very short and sporadic.

I started to clear the decks last night, and as part of that I attempted to convert my den system from Fedora Core 1 to Windows XP, which I need for some screen shots. I never did get Windows XP to install, simply because that system uses an Intel D845GEBV2 motherboard, which doesn't support Serial ATA natively. It has a Seagate S-ATA hard drive connected to a SIIG S-ATA PCI adapter. Nothing I did allowed Windows XP Setup to recognize the hard drive. That's pretty depressing, since just about any recent Linux distro recognizes all the hardware and installs fine. But I do need Windows on that system, or, more particularly Office 2000. OpenOffice.org simply doesn't cut it for editing my chapters, and I need my den system to be capable of doing that.

I could simply replace the S-ATA drive with a P-ATA drive, but I think I'll just replace the system instead. I'm building a bunch of new systems anyway, so dropping in a replacement is quicker than messing with what's there.



Thursday, 26 February 2004

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8:18 - A snow storm sneaked up on us. Barbara stopped at the grocery store yesterday on her way home from work, and said everything was normal there. No panic, no shortage of bread and milk. We watched the local news while we had dinner. Lani Pope ("Lani the Liar"), the head weathergirl on the local station, said we are to get 5" to 10" (12.5 cm to 25 cm) of snow today and overnight. We were surprised. Ordinarily, the weatherliars start talking about these events a week or so before they happen, but this was the first we'd heard about this one. I checked the various on-line weather sources, and sure enough, we're supposed to get some significant snow. The other sources say 2" to 6", but still.

So it appears we'll be getting somewhere from 2" to 10" of snow today, tonight, and tomorrow. Bizarrely, the high temperature Saturday is supposed to be about 60F (16C), so we should get some significant melt-off this weekend.

I'm still doing heads-down writing...

13:38 - I just posted the partial of the "Building a Cheap (But Good) PC" over on the subscriber page.

The snow has just now begun falling.



Friday, 27 February 2004

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7:52 - We got maybe 4" (10cm) of snow. Areas a few miles to our north got only 0.5" to 1". Areas just a few miles to our south got 12" to 18". It's to remain about freezing today, so the snow won't be melting off much today. Tomorrow is to have a high of about 50F (10C) and Sunday 64F (18C), so most of the snow is likely to have melted off by next week. Barbara just called to tell me she'd gotten in to work safely. The main roads have been plowed, but most secondary roads and neighborhood streets still require a 4X4 to traverse.

I'm still writing...

11:05 - Vis--vis my recent comments on the 321 Studios suit, I received the following from a reader who wants to remain anonymous:

I actually bought a copy of one of 321 Studios' programs for copying DVDs (for making backups to CDs). When I got it home and tried to use it I found out that it had activation built in to it, so I had to give them my name, address, and valid email address to be able to use it. There was nothing on the outside of the box to indicate this invasion of my personal privacy. At about the same time the RIAA was suing ISPs to get the names of their customers who were using P2P to download MP3s. Of course, I never registered and never used their software. I found a perfectly acceptable freeware program that accomplished the exact same thing on the Internet. It's called DVDx and the latest release is version 2.2.


While I appreciate that 321 Studios was fighting the MPAA in court to allow people to make backup copies of their movies, I vowed never again to buy any of their software and just ate the $50 loss.

At the beginning of the year, when DVD-burners finally became affordable, I needed software to allow me to make backup copies of my movie DVDs onto blank DVDs. Needless to say, I never even considered buying the software that 321 Studios was selling for $100, figuring they had the exact same activation scheme that would invade my personal privacy. So I went looking on the Internet, and found a great program called DVD Decrypter. The latest release is version and it just works incredibly well.



I thought that maybe you would like to pass on the above information to your readers who are looking for a good replacement for what 321 Studios will no longer be able to supply. DVD Decrypter does have the de-CSS capability built-in, and does just about everything that anyone would want to be able to do to be able to backup their movies. I use it to backup my movies because I frequently visit friends and/or family, and bring along a movie to watch together. Rather than take my original along with me and risk it getting damaged or lost, I now just take along a copy. Now that DVD-burners are less than $100 and the DVD blanks are less than $1 it just doesn't make sense to risk the loss of a $10, $20, or even $30 movie. Jack Valenti is probably a multi-millionaire and can easily afford to replace his lost or damaged movies, or, even more likely, gets whatever he wants for free. The average hard-working American who is having trouble just making ends meet does not have this luxury.

Please feel free to post any of this information that you feel might interest your readers, but not in such a way as to reveal my identity.

Thanks for all that you do. I just bought a copy of the 3rd edition of your PCHiaN, and refer to it constantly -- easily the best hardware manual on the market.

I emailed him to ask his permission to post his message, and received the following response:

Sure, go ahead and use my message with all identifying info stripped out. Also maybe do some light editing to remove any expressions that I tend to use overly much, which might be used to identify me (like "<removed>"). You are the master, and that's why I really enjoy reading your stuff. You write much more clearly and interestingly than I'll ever be able to. I read your website pretty much every day to be able to keep up with the ever-changing technological advances. We all depend on you to keep us informed about the latest new hardware and software. I especially enjoy your humor, and opinions on technology.

There's also some really good websites with "guides" and other information on DVD-burning and related technologies.

Doom9.net - The Definitive DVD Backup Resource http://www.doom9.org/

DVDR Digest - DVDR articles, downloads and news - Site News http://www.dvdr-digest.com/

DVDHelp.us - DVD help, tutorials, FAQ, and very popular free help forum! http://www.dvdhelp.us/

I very much appreciate your respecting my personal privacy, both last time and this time. <removed> just <removed>, back the beginning of <removed>, when I sent you <removed>. None of the places I know of will take software back unless it's still shrink-wrapped. And if I had sent it back to the company, they'd still have my info to give to the copyright police when they would get subpoenaed and have to turn over all records of all their customers and their confidential information.

So thank you again for all that you do, and feel free to do whatever editing you think is appropriate to help conceal my identity and protect my personal privacy.

Thanks. I try to respect my readers' privacy. Quite often, people simply don't want their email addresses shown because they don't want spambots picking them up from my pages. Other times, people want me to remove their names and email addresses because they could get in trouble at work or whatever. Still others, like you and some of my correspondents who are in the military or government, want me to remove all traces of what they sent me. In cases like that, I delete original messages and my replies from my email folders as soon as I've posted the letters here.

As a journalist, I enjoy some protections that ordinary citizens do not. For example, my computers are sacrosanct. Even if the police arrive with a search warrant, I can announce that I am a journalist and that these computers belong to a journalist, and they are restricted in what they can do. I am legally entitled to protect sources, and will do so to the extent I can.

12:28 - I guess it's worse than I thought. This article has some interesting information.:

In Randolph County, as many as 400 cars were stranded on Interstate 85 during the night after two tractor-trailers jackknifed in separate accidents.

Troopers escorted some motorists to motels to get them out of the cold, but most people opted to stay with their cars until traffic began moving again before dawn, officials said.

Total snowfall in the state from Thursday through Friday morning ranged from 12 to 18 inches in the Winston-Salem and Greensboro area; and 6 inches to 8 inches in the Raleigh-Durham area.

I just talked to Paul Jones, who lives a mile or so from us. They had 6" or 8" of snow at their house, versus maybe 4" at our house. Some of the folks on the south side of town apparently did have 18", which is a huge snowfall for this area, probably a record or nearly so.

I had the dogs out a little while ago. They greatly enjoyed running around. Malcolm runs across the yard and dips his snout down into the snow and then tosses it around. Duncan frolics pretty well too, especially for a nine-year-old dog. Poor Malcolm needed to potty, but couldn't squat without putting his butt into the snow. He obviously didn't want to do that, so he spun around a half dozen times to flatten the snow a bit.

15:27 - ESR sums up nicely what I've been criticizing about Linux all along, usability. An excerpt:

CUPS is not alone. This kind of fecklessness is endemic in open-source land. And it's what's keeping Microsoft in business because by Goddess, they may write crappy insecure overpriced shoddy software, but on this one issue their half-assed semi-competent best is an order of magnitude better than we usually manage.

Hallelujah! Perhaps OSS developers will sit up and take notice, now that ESR with his undoubted credentials has pointed out the problem. I'm afraid not, though. Instead, all the OSS fanatics will lambaste ESR for treason to the cause.

The fanatics in the OSS camp like to think of themselves as smart and competent, and Microsoft as stupid and incompetent. In fact, at least when it comes to usability, the true situation is the reverse. I remember when Microsoft first decided to take on Novell in the PC LAN server market. Microsoft knew they were the new kids on the block, and acted accordingly. They didn't expect Novell NetWare to accommodate them. They accommodated Novell NetWare. Microsoft made it as easy as possible to drop NT Server boxes into an existing Novell NetWare network. They released free utilities to make it easy to migrate. Realizing that not everyone would want to migrate, at least not immediately, Microsoft also provided a plethora of utilities and built-in functions to make co-existence easier on admins.

Contrast this with Linux. I'm running Fedora Core 1. It has absolutely no clue that it's connected to a network that is filled with machines running Windows. Here's what Fedora Core should have asked me the first time I booted it on my den system.

  • I see you're connected to a network with a lot of Windows systems. Do you want to share your local resources with them? [Yes, I do]
    • I suggest that you share your home directory, /home/thompson, with Windows users as //davinci/thompson. Is that okay? [Yes]
      • How do you want to authenticate users who access davinci? [Use the NT Domain controller]
    • Are there any other resources on davinci you'd like to share with Windows machines? [No, thanks]
  • I see a Windows NT server, theodore, with a shared directory called /usr. Would you like to map that as a local volume? [Yes, thanks.]
    • Where should it appear on davinci? [make it /home/thompson/theodore_c]
  • I see a Windows 2000 Pro system, messier, that also has several shared directories. Would you like to map any of those? [Yes, thanks]
    • [prompts me for each shared volume available on messier, and where to map it on davinci.]
  • I see another Windows 2000 machine, newton, that has shared resources. Would you like to map any of those to davinci? [Yes, thanks.]
    • [prompts me for each shared volume available on newton, and where to map it on davinci.]
    • I see that newton also has a shared Laserjet printer available. Would you like to be able to print to it from davinci? [Yes, thanks]

And so on. All of this stuff is trivially simple to discover on the network. There's absolutely no reason that Linux shouldn't check for Windows Networking resources and offer to configure them automatically, nor is there any reason why Linux shouldn't offer to share its own resources with Windows clients and configure those automatically.

Perhaps it's only Red Hat and Fedora that's this bad about co-existing with Windows. I seem to remember that Mandrake was a bit better, and I believe that some of the other Linux distros like Lindows are better still. But why isn't this type of functionality a part of every mainstream Linux distro? If desktop Linux is to succeed, it simply must play nice with Windows, just as Windows NT succeeded by playing nice with NetWare.



Saturday, 28 February 2004

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{Five Years Ago Today]




Sunday, 29 February 2004

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