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Week of 8 March 2004

Latest Update : Monday, 29 March 2004 07:57 -0500


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Monday, 8 March 2004

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8:12 - It got a mite breezy here last night. After we had dinner and walked the dogs, Barbara and I settled in to read our books. About 7:30 or so, Barbara had just put some classical music on the CD player when the lights flashed out and then on again immediately. A minute or two later, it happened again. And again. It looked like we were going to have a real power failure, so I went into my office to shut down the servers.

I heard something outside and shouted to ask Barbara if it were pouring outside. She opened the front door and shouted for me to come look. There was a strong wind blowing through the trees in our front yard. Barbara estimated it at 50 MPH (80 KPH), and I think that was about right. Over the next minute or two, the winds started to increase, so we headed for the basement.

For the next couple of hours, we sat down there reading while the winds howled outside. We never did lose power more than momentarily, but the sustained winds remained about 50 MPH, with gusts to 70 MPH or 80 MPH. The Weather Channel was calling for extreme winds through about midnight, so we decided to sleep downstairs. By midnight, things had calmed down considerably, so I decided to go upstairs and sleep in our bed. Barbara came up a while later.

This morning, the news reports say we had 70 MPH winds and there are about 80,000 homes without power in Winston-Salem and the surrounding area. Barbara went in to work, but she had to take detours to avoid downed trees and so on. It looks like whatever it was that nailed the Midwest recently finally arrived here last night. I guess I'd better go out and check our roof for damage.

 

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Tuesday, 9 March 2004

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8:57 - Here's a fascinating Wall Street Journal article on what it costs Dell and other large OEMs to build a PC. It says, in part:

One can learn a lot about the computer industry by looking at the breakdown of manufacturing costs in an average desktop PC, as compiled by iSuppli Corp., a market-research firm. Excluding labor and shipping, and leaving out the costs of a monitor, keyboard or mouse, the typical desktop PC these days costs the Dells or the H-Ps of the world roughly $437 in parts.

The biggest portion of that -- 30%, or $134 -- goes to Intel for a Pentium processor. The disk drives, including whatever CD or DVD is installed, cost around $104; the RAM memory is $54; and the remaining hardware items -- power supply, case, circuit boards -- total $100.

The final 10%, or $45, goes to Microsoft for the Windows operating system.

They're obviously talking about "consumer-grade" systems like those you see at Best Buy. Just imagine. These systems are built around a case, power supply, and motherboard that total $100. No wonder they're as bad as they are.

I am about to abandon Linux as a desktop operating system, at least for now. I've used it for months to give it a fair trial, and it simply doesn't cut it, at least for me. The major problems are lack of usability and crude applications.

In terms of usability problems I could write a book, but I'll give just one example. When I copy something to the paste buffer, it isn't always there when I attempt to paste it. For example, just this morning, I copied something from a message in Mozilla Mail. I then closed Mozilla Mail, opened the Mozilla Browser, and attempted to paste what I'd copied into the search box in Google. I right clicked on the search box, intending to click Paste, but that option was grayed out. This happens repeatedly, sometimes even if I haven't closed Mail. I could understand copy/paste problems if I were attempting to copy/paste between a KDE application and a gnome application, but this problem occurs within the same application. Give me a break. If they can't get copy/paste right, that's a pretty strong indictment on usability.

And Mozilla Mail is munging mail for me. All kinds of weird things happen. This morning, for example, I had my inbox selected. There were a total of nine messages, six read and three unread. The Inbox folder was bolded, as it should be since it contained new messages, but it was showing (2) new messages rather than (3). I changed to a different folder and then back to the Inbox. It still showed three new messages, but only (2) indicated next to the folder name. I finally had to compress the Inbox to bring the number of indicated messages to the correct number. Mozilla Mail also refuses to keep the sort order I choose. Last night, I'd again changed the sort order for Inbox to "Order Received". This morning, when I downloaded new mail, I noticed that several spams that SpamAssassin and the Mozilla Mail Junk Mail controls had failed to catch were in the Inbox. But rather than being at the bottom of the list, as they should have been, they were interspersed with older mail. I checked the Sort Order, and sure enough Mozilla Mail had once again changed it back to sorting by Date rather than by Order Received.

All of that is annoying, but not really serious except to the extent that it's worrisome that Mozilla is munging indexes or something. The real killer happened a couple of nights ago. I downloaded new mail and had two new messages in Inbox. I opened the first of the two new messages and read through it. It was several paragraphs long, and it was truncated in the middle of a sentence. That didn't bother me. I figured the problem was on the sender's end. So I closed that message, intending to read the second new message. When I looked at the message list, the second message was gone. Hmmmm.

At first, I assumed that Mozilla had marked it as Junk and moved it to the Trash folder. I looked there, and there weren't any messages. I remembered who that second message was from and did a search. Nothing turned up. I returned to Inbox and again opened the first message. This time, it was truncated at the same position, but the second message was appended to it, beginning with the message headers from the second message. That upset me a great deal. I depend on email, and having an email client that mangles messages is completely unacceptable.

I tried compressing the Inbox folder, hoping that it would reset the index. No joy. I closed Mozilla Mail and reopened it. No joy. I finally went out and looked at the Inbox file with a text editor, only to find that indeed Mozilla Mail had somehow combined the two messages into one, apparently truncating the first message as it did so.

So I'm abandoning Linux as a desktop OS until things get better. I'll keep using it as a server OS, where it does a great job, but in my opinion Linux is simply not ready for primetime as a desktop OS. I'll go back to Windows 2000 on my den system. Microsoft will support Windows 2000 Pro for at least a couple more years, so that gives me an option until Linux is ready for primetime. I'll keep looking at new Linux distros as they arrive, but for now it's Windows for me on my desktop systems.

 

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Wednesday, 10 March 2004

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8:14 - Still heads-down writing. Barbara and I both worked from 7:00 a.m. yesterday until 8:00 p.m. with only short breaks for dinner and so on. From the afternoon through the evening, Barbara was working on some new consulting jobs while I built a project system for the book. Periodically, I'd shout that I needed her to hold something while I photographed it. She'd come out, we'd do the shoot, and then she'd go back to work. We're both going to need a break when this work is done.

12:55 - Hmmm. I may be working too hard. I just took a short break while a quick backup was running. As I was surfing the web, I found an article whose headline mentioned a new top-level domain, "dot mob". My first thought was, "The Mafia gets its own TLD?"

 

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Thursday, 11 March 2004

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7:53 - We went out for a short observing session last night, Paul, Mary, Barbara, and me. It was a work night and pretty chilly with a breeze, so we just went to the soccer field about a quarter mile (400 metres) from our house. There weren't any clouds, but transparency was mediocre, so the faint fuzzies weren't very satisfying. Seeing (atmospheric stability) was pretty poor, so the planets weren't very satisfying. So we looked at a few objects but mostly just chatted. Mary headed home about 8:15, and Barbara and I bagged it not long thereafter.

Mary is a very perceptive woman. I asked her what she thought of the Martha Stewart affair and she said she thought they were making an example of her. The question is, what kind of example? Most people think that Ms. Steward engaged in illegal insider trading and was convicted of that. In fact, all of the trades she made were completely legal. By definition, it is impossible to engage in insider trading unless you are an insider, and Ms. Stewart was not an insider. So, if she's being made an example, and I have no doubt she is, it's not in the sense that most people think. She is being made an example for failing to cooperate with federal investigators, which she was and is under no obligation to do.

Jerry Pournelle has gone on at some length about the persecution of Ms. Stewart, and I am in complete agreement with him. I've never met the woman. I've never seen her show or any of her magazines or books. My perception of her from what I've heard is that she's rich and not very well liked. I suspect I wouldn't like her either. But being unlikable is no reason to suffer a jail sentence. When the story first broke, I turned to Barbara and said, "They're not accusing her of any crime." Nothing has changed. They still haven't accused her, let alone convicted her, of any crime. So why is she facing as much as 20 years in prison?

The short answer is that Ms. Stewart was insufficiently deferential to federal investigators. In Imperial Rome, there was a crime that translated roughly as "offending the emperor". That crime was not defined, and so made it possible for the emperor to dispose of anyone he disliked under color of law. That is exactly what has happened to Ms. Stewart.

I'm still doing heads-down writing. The PC it takes me an hour to build if I'm just building it takes three days to build when I have to photograph and document every little step along the way. But I should have a finished chapter posted on the subscriber page in a day or two. Don't let anyone tell you differently. Writing is a hard way to make a living.

 

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Friday, 12 March 2004

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7:57 - Now 3/11 joins 9/11 as a date that will live in infamy. This morning, the citizens of Madrid face the stark reality of terrorism. I would imagine that nearly every one of them knew one of the victims or knows someone who knew one of the victims. Americans grieve this morning for our Spanish friends and allies, who have suffered a loss proportionately similar to the loss we suffered on 9/11, with nearly 200 dead and more than 1,000 injured in this most recent terrorist outrage. The Islamics have apparently claimed responsibility, although current news reports say the Spanish authorities suspect the terrorist ETA wing of the Basque separatist movement is responsible.

Ultimately, of course, it doesn't matter to the families and friends of those killed and injured which group was responsible, nor indeed does it matter to the civilized world. A terrorist is a terrorist, no matter what his motivation. Terrorists cannot be reasoned with. Terrorists cannot be bought off. No compromise is possible with terrorists. The only solution is to hunt them down and kill them, with the goal of locating and burning their nests. I wish the Spanish much success in doing so, and I hope that the US government provides all possible assistance to them.

13:45 - This is truly outrageous. A woman in Utah has been jailed and charged with murder because, against medical advice, she refused to undergo a Caesarian Section and insisted on delivering her twins naturally. A C-section is major abdominal surgery by any definition, and this woman surely has the right to refuse to undergo it, no matter what the predicted result of that refusal might be. All of us have the absolute right to control our own bodies. Without that right, all other rights are meaningless.

Most women undoubtedly would have willingly assumed the risk of undergoing a C-section for the benefit of their unborn children (although most husbands, faced with the situation, would probably tell the doctor to take even a severe risk with the life of the unborn child rather than even a moderate risk with the life of the mother. Or so I'd hope.) But that doesn't change the fact that this woman was entitled to make her own decision, however important or trivial her reasons might seem to an outsider, and however large or small the actual risk to her might be. To deny her that right is to violate the single most important right any of us possesses. To charge her with murder for exercising that right is purely evil.

 

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Saturday, 13 March 2004

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Sunday, 14 March 2004

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