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Week of 5 July 2004

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Monday, 5 July 2004

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10:46 - Barbara is off work for the holiday. She's washing our trucks right now, and then she plans to clean up the basement and clean house.

I'm doing the same thing, but in a computer sense. I'm trying to prune our working data directories down to size. Currently, the working data store occupies 6.63 GB, made up of 29,687 files and 860 directories. That data store is backed up frequently, both on our weekly backups to tape and with the "quick backup" I run frequently throughout the day, which xcopies changed data to multiple network volumes elsewhere on the network.

The problem is that the "quick backup" is no longer very quick. Even though only changed files are copied, the xcopy backup has to sort through more than 6 GB of data every time I run the batch-file backup. I want to move a lot of the less active working data to our archive directories, which'll both speed up the "quick backups" and make it easier to do ad hoc backups of our working data to DVD discs. The archived stuff needs to be backed up only when I move files to the archive, so its size matters a lot less. I'd like to get the working data set down to 3 GB or less, which'll leave room for quite a bit of growth without needing to use a second DVD for ad hoc backups.

I'll start by moving stuff from the real working directory on the server, but keep the xcopy backup directories as is for now. That way, if I manage to screw up somehow, all the stuff I've moved to the archive directory will still be available on the other network volumes.

Eventually, I'm going to move to a Linux file server and set up a chron job to rsync everything frequently throughout the day. I've never written any scripts for Linux, but I'd bet it wouldn't be too hard to write or modify a script to do versioning, that is to copy changed files on a rotating basis to different directories. But that's for later.

 

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Tuesday, 6 July 2004

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9:54 - I got 84 new messages overnight. Of those, 5 were spam, of which Mozilla Mail's Bayesian filtering caught 2. A 40% success rate may seem low, but don't forget that these 5 spams were the cream of the crop, the ones that made it through multiple layers of filtering before they finally made it to my in-box. I have no real idea of how many messages were sent to me overnight, but based on prior experience I'd guess probably at least 2,000 or 3,000, and possibly twice that. Probably 80% to 90% of the total messages were refused before SpamAssassin ever saw them, because they originated from spam sources like China or Brazil or because they were addressed to a nonexistent account. SpamAssassin probably rejected 80% or more of the remaining messages, leaving me with only 84 total messages, of which 5 were spam. I can live with this.

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Pournelle is working on his new BYTE column. He sends out drafts to his "kitchen cabinet" for what he calls sanity checks. Last night about 11:00, Jerry called. When I picked up the phone I heard insane cackling laughter. Jerry had just installed Microsoft Office 2000 on his Xandros Linux box, and couldn't believe there was now a functioning Internet Explorer icon on his Linux desktop.

An hour or so earlier, I'd sent back an annotated column draft that I'd done with Word 2000 under Xandros. Then we started exchanging mail:

JEP: "Did you do this with Word 2000 under Xandros?"
RBT: "Yep."
JEP: "Amazing. It's perfect. How do I install Word 2000 on my Xandros box?"
RBT: "Stick the Office 2000 Premium CD in the drive, pick the apps you want to install, and click to accept the defaults."

So he did, and he ended up with a functioning Office 2000 installation on his Xandros box. He'd also mapped Windows shares to the Xandros box and vice versa, updated Xandros with Xandros Networks, and so on. Jerry's conclusion? "Finally, a Linux distro that Aunt Minnie can live with."

If I were Microsoft, I'd buy Xandros and bury it. From Microsoft's viewpoint, Xandros is too dangerous to let live.

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The decks are cleared for work on the new book. I did a lot of archiving and moving data around yesterday, and I'm ready to roll. I also have lots of new stuff coming, including an Intel Alderwood board with a socket 775 processor, along with other stuff I can't talk about yet. The next few months are going to be interesting. As always, I'll be posting draft chapters in the subscribers' area.

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13:54 - Here's an excellent resource for securing Windows XP systems. It's from NIST, and provides an overview of what needs to be done to close the most severe security holes in the operating system as well as in many common applications. I've only glanced over it briefly, but it appears to be well worth reading.

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14:40 - I've about had it with autodialed political calls. The politicians exempted themselves from the Do-Not-Call Registry regulations, of course, on the specious theory that regulating political calls would violate the First Amendment. As though their right to free speech trumps my right not to listen to them. A politician no more has the right to harass me with phone calls than he does to barge into my home and force me to listen to his drivel. I said at the time the DNC regulations were being discussed that it was a huge mistake to exempt politicians, non-profits, and polling organizations, and so it has turned out.

So far today, I've gotten eight of these obnoxious autodialed messages. I'm keeping count, why I don't know. The 5th Congressional District election is the most hotly contested and most expensive race in the nation. The Republican and Democrat candidates are worried about the primary, so they're spending all their time and money hammering on primary opponents. One day recently, I got four-count-'em-four calls on behalf of one candidate, the Republican Vernon Robinson. I'm voting for him anyway, because he's been endorsed by the Libertarian Party. But it sure would be nice if he'd stop pestering me. If this goes on much longer, I may reconsider and vote for someone who hasn't harassed me.

The last one takes the prize for the day so far. A woman, who did not identify herself or her affiliation, started shrieking about Broyhill, one of the Republican candidates. His furniture company went bankrupt some years ago, leaving a lot of customers holding the bag for furniture they'd paid for and never received. According to this woman, Broyhill stole that money from voters, is now spending millions on his campaign, and they should refuse to vote for him until he pays back what he stole. She has a point, certainly, but I wish she wouldn't call my home to shriek about it.

Every one of these damned phone calls interrupts me, and I really resent it.

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17:22 - Arrrghhh. I've done it to myself again. Last October, I spent several days with the refrain to Don McLean's American Pie running through my head constantly. Today, someone over on the messageboard commented about a source of annoying phone calls as bad as the political calls I mentioned earlier. His phone company assigned him to the 888 exchange, so every time someone who's trying to dial a toll-free 888 number forgets to dial the initial 1, someone in that exchange gets the call.

Thinking about that made me think of a song by a one-hit wonder group called Tommy Tutone. The song hit the charts in late 1981 or early 1982, and the refrain is now constantly going through my mind.

Jenny I've got your number
I need to make you mine
Jenny don't change your number
867-5309, 867-5309, 867-5309, 867-5309

I remember when the song hit the charts. Every person in the United States who was unfortunate enough to have that telephone number, including one sheriff who actually had a teenage daughter named Jenny, started getting calls at all hours of the day and night from horny teenage guys hoping to get lucky. Before it was over, the phone companies had changed that number in every area code and declared the number retired. It may still be retired. I sure wouldn't want it.

 

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Wednesday, 7 July 2004

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10:16 - Dinner with Paul and Mary last night. Wonderful food and company.

Paul and I were discussing an issue--Barbara and Mary would say "arguing"--when Paul began a comment by saying, "People of your generation..." That gave me pause. Technically, Paul and Mary are young enough to be my children, although that'd have made me a father at age 15. I don't think of Paul and Mary as young whippersnappers, though. I've never thought of them as anything but peers, in the same way that I think of Jerry Pournelle as a peer despite the fact that he's 20 years older than I am.

I'd never really considered that an age difference of 15 or 20 years could make a difference in the way an intelligent person thought. I suppose it can, though, on two bases.

First, of course, Paul and Mary grew up in a different world than I did, just as I grew up in a different world than Jerry did. Paul and Mary may barely remember a world in which computers weren't ubiquitous, and I certainly can't remember a world in which television wasn't ubiquitous. So there are differences in our life experiences while we were growing up.

Second, as Churchill so famously didn't observe, a man who is a conservative at 20 has no heart, but a man who is a liberal at 40 has no brain. I suppose it is possible that our thinking patterns change as we age, although my self-perception is that my thinking patterns were pretty much set in stone by the time I was six years old. I've learned a lot since then, of course, but my basic way of thinking hasn't changed, or so it seems to me.

Do I look at the world through a different filter at age 51 than I did at age 21? I don't think so, but perhaps I do. If anything, I think I'm more willing to listen to other viewpoints now than I was then, but perhaps Paul is right. That's one of the reasons I enjoy spending time with intelligent people. They challenge me and cause me to re-examine some of my assumptions.

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10:36 - Speaking of using rsync for backup, Chris Lake posted the following message on the messageboard:

Regarding rsync and backups, here's a timely article:

Maybe too simplistic, but a good overview nonetheless, and perhaps a template for more complicated applications.

Which is indeed a good tutorial on the basics. I'm looking forward to becoming a Linux shop around here. Xandros Desktop OS will run on all of the desktop systems except one or two that I'll keep Windows on for screenshots, running Windows-only astronomy apps and games, and so on.

I'm going to run SUSE on the servers. I always thought it was spelled SuSE, but I just got a CARE package from Novell that has three DVDs full of software, including the server and workstation versions of SUSE, and they spell it SUSE. I guess they should know.

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15:16 - Is Norway really this strict about drunken driving? The article reports that "A breath test showed her blood alcohol level was 0.2 parts per million, or 10 times the legal maximum in Norway."

Geez. North Carolina, like nearly all states, now defines 0.08% as presumptive evidence of drunken driving. That's eight one-hundredths of one percent, or 0.0008. Apparently, Norway defines the acceptable level as 0.00000002 (and I may have lost track of the zeros). I'd think you could have that level of blood alcohol just from being in the same room as someone drinking a beer. The preceding week.

0.02 ppm? Surely that must take some serious equipment to detect. The average human body has, if I recall correctly, 5 liters of blood, which is 5,000 milliliters or 5,000,000 microliters. The North Carolina 0.08% standard would allow 4 milliliters of pure ethanol in the bloodstream. The Norway 0.02 ppm standard would allow a total of 0.1 microliter, if I calculated that right. How do you even detect ethanol at that level in the field with a breath test? And isn't it possible that all of us might have at least that level naturally?

 

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Thursday, 8 July 2004

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9:21 - Last Sunday was Independence Day for me in more ways than one. Since then, I've been using mostly Linux and other OSS to do my work, and that trend will only continue and accelerate. By the end of 2004, we'll be a Linux shop--Xandros on the desktops and SUSE on the servers. I'll still have a few Windows boxes around to support my writing and to run Windows-only apps when necessary, but Windows and Windows applications will rapidly become an insignificant part of our day-to-day computing environment.

I'm typing this right now with Mozilla Composer on Xandros, for example, rather than FrontPage on Windows. Later today or tomorrow, I'll move my primary Windows 2000 desktop system to secondary status and replace it with a new box running Xandros. The old Windows 2000 box will live on the KVM for a while, just to make sure I've gotten everything I need off it, but eventually it'll be retired.

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FedEx showed up yesterday with a box from Intel. It contains an "Alderwood Kit", which comprises a D925XCV motherboard, two LGA775 processors (a 3.4EE and a 3.6), two 512 MB sticks of Crucial 533 MHz DDR2 memory, two S-ATA hard drives, and a power supply. It's an ATX board, so I'll be able to use a standard case, but the main power connector on the board is EPS12V (24-pin) rather than ATX12V (20-pin). The only thing I lack is video. The board has a PCI Express x16 video connector, but I don't have a PCI Express video adapter in the house. Time to email my contacts at ATi and nVIDIA and see what they can send me.

I'll spend a lot ot time first shooting images of the board and processors for use in the new book, but eventually I'll build a new system around these components. It should be a barn-burner.


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Friday, 9 July 2004

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9:36 - The headlines yesterday announced a huge security flaw in Mozilla, Firefox, and Thunderbird. You can be sure Microsoft and Microsoft apologists will be talking about this one for a long time. The flaw was announced Wednesday on Full Disclosure.

The problem is, the security flaw isn't in the Mozilla products, it's in Windows. Mozilla, Firefox, and Thunderbird running on Linux and Mac OS/X are unaffected. Still, the Mozilla folks fixed the problem, doing Microsoft's work for them. Patched versions of the affected products were released the same day, not only before the problem had been exploited but before many people even knew about it. Jem Matzan posted an accurate description of the issue.

You can download the patched versions of Mozilla, Firefox, and Thunderbird from the Mozilla site, but if you're reading this with one of the affected browsers, just make sure software installation is enabled and then click here to patch the problem. It only takes a few seconds.

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This from Bo Leuf concerning drunk driving in Norway.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: drunk in Oslo
Date: Thu, 8 Jul 2004 22:13:14 -0000 (UTC)
From: Bo Leuf
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

Probably you'll get other mail about this, but I believe that Fox news got something translated wrong (as usual?). When something seems absurd in a passing news telegram, it usually is :)

AFAIK Norway has a fairly typical 0.5 parts per thousand drunken-driving legal limit, which measured in a breathalyzer test is supposed to correspond to 0.25 milligram (alcohol) per liter (air).

European countries range from 0.2 to 0.8 ppt DWUI, sometimes with an higher limit for extreme cases when authorities revoke the driving license immediately. In Sweden for instance, 0.2 ppt leads to fines and a suspended license for perhaps a month or three, while 0.5 ppt leads to a jail sentence for a few months, followed by probation, license suspension for something like a year, and the requirement to take a suitability test to regain it.

That's more reasonable, then, although still unreasonable. I don't much like the idea of setting a particular level of blood alcohol as presumptive evidence of impaired driving. For that matter, I don't think drunk driving should be against the law, although I'd punish drunk wrecking severely. MADD and similar groups have focused on the wrong side of the problem. Punishing people for driving drunk is ineffective, as the continuing problem of drunk driving shows. Punishing people for drunk wrecking would be much more effective.

The problem with setting an arbitrary statutory limit is that different people are affected differently. For example, in college I drank copious amounts of beer, but in the last 30 years I doubt I've averaged one beer a year. While I was in college and actively drinking, I was much less affected by any given level of blood alcohol than I would be now. Then, I could have drunk a six-pack without noticeable effect. Nowadays, I can feel an affect after drinking one beer. The same is true, but more so, for an alcoholic who drinks heavily. A guy who consumes a bottle a day of hard liquor might be completely sober with a 0.10% blood alcohol level, whereas I'd probably be unconscious. In fact, the alcoholic might actually be in better shape to drive with a 0.10% blood alcohol level than he would be at 0.00%.

I remember a demonstration years ago that didn't work out as the sponsors had hoped. Over the course of several hours, they  had NASCAR race car driver Kyle Petty drinking shots of whiskey, blowing into a breathalyzer, and then driving through a slalom as fast as he could manage. The problem was, the drunker he got, the faster he made it through the slalom, and the fewer cones he knocked over.

That's not to say that drunk driving is a good idea, or that people who drink are not impaired. It does, however, prove that the correlation between blood alcohol level and driving impairment is tenuous at best. It is a miscarriage of justice that I can drive legally at 0.07%, at which level I would be severely impaired, while an experienced drinker will be arrest for driving at 0.08%, at which level he may be completely unimpaired and will certainly be in much shape to drive than I am at 0.07%.

I have always argued that it's wrong to make drunk driving illegal. Instead, there should be severe punishment for accidents that occur when the driver is drunk. For example, if a driver is involved in an accident that kills someone, I think the police should do a breathalyzer test as the first step. If that shows the presence of any significant amount of alcohol, they should deliver the driver to a hospital to be tested formally for blood alcohol level.

The trial could be simple. We wouldn't even need a jury. Just require the accused to drink until his blood alcohol level was the same as that measured immediately after the accident, hook the accused up to equipment that measures reaction time and so forth, and have him do the best he can on the tests. If he passes, which is to say his performance is similar to that of the average for unimpaired people of his age, allowing some slack, he's free of criminal charges. If he fails, the test equipment delivers a 50,000 volt shock at high amperage and they bury him.

But seriously, the eye-for-an-eye method would work very well. If an impaired driver kills someone, kill him. If he paralyzes someone, paralyze him. If someone had to have a leg amputated, amputate his leg. Doing this would eliminate drunk driving in short order. Most of those who now drive drunk would stop doing so. There's a big difference between risking a fine or losing your license or even a short jail term versus risking the summary death penalty. A few would continue to drive while impaired, of course, but that problem would be self-limiting.

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14:30 - This makes me so angry I literally want to strangle someone. So far today, since 9:00 a.m. I have received more than a dozen political calls from automated dialers, which is to say two or three calls per hour. Each time the phone rings, it interrupts me, and by the time I've collected my thoughts and gotten back to where I was before the phone rang, the phone rings again.

These sleazy sons of bitches are apparently calling registered Republican voters during the day. I work at home. During the day. It would be bad enough if only one or two were calling, but we have several hard-fought Republican races, including the one for the 5th Congressional District, which has eight competing candidates. The paper ran the results of a poll this morning, and the top four are in a dead heat. So, I'm getting calls from at least half a dozen candidates, and what makes it worse is that I get more than one call per day per candidate. We figured out why the other night. Barbara had registered Republican because she wanted to be able to vote in Republican primaries. Big mistake, as it turns out.

Barbara just filed a change of affiliation to Unaffiliated, but that doesn't take effect until after the 20 July primary. Probably not even then, as it'll take a while for her name to be flushed from the lists. And after the primary, we have an almost-guaranteed run-off election, followed by the general election. The Board of Elections lady gave her the number for Republican Party HQ. They're not answering their phones, of course. And the voice mail box that the calls go to won't take any more messages, presumably because it's already full of messages from people who are demanding that the harassment stop.

How stupid are these people? Nothing like punishing people who have joined your party, not to mention innocent bystanders like me. I will never under any circumstances vote for a Republican ever again. The rank stupidity of it is what I find the most annoying. Aren't these people even smart enough to realize that the only people who listen to their messages are the True Believers? They're preaching to the choir and making enemies of everyone else. There is a large percentage of the electorate that polls say is undecided. Harassing phone calls aren't likely to tilt those people in favor of the harassers, now are they?

But the harassment continues unabated, and in fact is accelerating as the election draws near. So, in order to be able to get some work done, I've had to turn off the ringers on all my phones. On the phone line I'm paying for, I might add. I can't get real calls, because these bastards have exempted themselves from the Do-Not-Call Registry. I hate them. I hate every one of them. Bastards.

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And I have a problem deciding which HTML editor to use. For now, I need one that runs under both Windows and Linux, if only because Barbara will not convert to Linux for some time, and needs a Windows HTML editor. FrontPage works fine, but it's not available for Linux. I could live with Mozilla Composer, but it strips out php code, which apparently is a known bug. Nvu, which is based on Mozilla Composer, actually looks like a very nice piece of software, and is available for Windows and Linux. It also leaves the php code alone, as long as I make a small change to tell Nvu that the code fragment is php. The problem is, Nvu doesn't work properly in Windows.

I called up this page in FrontPage this morning, added the little code snippet to tell Nvu about the php code, and fired up Nvu, expecting everything to work. I typed a paragraph, and everything worked nicely. Then I hit Enter to start a new paragraph. Nothing happened. The regular keys work fine, but Enter does nothing on this page in Nvu. I'm not sure why. That's a pretty bizarre bug. On an empty page, Enter works fine in Nvu, but not for this page. Arrrghhh.

 

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Saturday, 10 July 2004

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10:18 - Barbara is cleaning house and I'm doing laundry.

I have the system destined to run Xandros sitting under my desk. I'd actually planned to set it up yesterday, but I ran into some problems with cable lengths. I think I'll put the new system on top of my desk at the far right rear corner, which eliminates the cable problems. I'll share my primary 19" monitor between the new Xandros box and my current Windows 2000 box. I may also share the keyboard and mouse.

The new system should be fast. It's a Pentium 4/3.2 Extreme Edition processor with an ATi RADEON 9800XT video adapter. There's a Plextor PX-708A DVD burner in it, which should motivate me to figure out how to burn DVDs under Linux. By early- to mid-week I should be using the new box as my primary office system. I'll keep the Windows 2000 box running for a month or so, just to make sure I've really gotten everything off it that I need.

The old box is a Pentium 4/1.7 with 512 MB of PC133 SDRAM. It has an 80 GB ATA drive and a SCSI DDS tape drive. Eventually, I may add a second ATA drive for RAID 1, install SUSE Linux, and re-purpose the old box as a file server. The current file server, theodore, is an antique Pentium III system that's been upgraded a few times but has been in use for nearly five years, so it's about time I retired it.

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11:20 - Well, this sucks. I got the new system connected up, put the Xandros installation CD in the drive and fired up the system. The Xandros splash screen comes up, and it runs through its sequence of detecting hardware and so on. Then the display goes black and changes to text-mode frequencies. Then the display changes back to graphics mode frequencies, and a cursor appears. So far, so good. But then the display changes back to text-mode frequencies and I get big blue letters on the screen telling me to remove the Xandros CD and reboot the system.

At first, I thought perhaps it was because I'd left Hyper Threading enabled, so I went into BIOS Setup and disabled Hyper Threading and tried installing again. Same thing. I'm beginning to wonder if Xandros indeed has an issue with fast processors. Jerry Pournelle tried to install Xandros on a 3+ GHz P4 system and ran into similar problems, except that in his case the display was filled with blue "40" characters.

The only remotely odd thing I have installed is a Logitech Cordless mouse, so I'll switch that out and try again.

Duh. There is one other remotely odd thing. BIOS Setup shows there's no hard drive installed. Duh.

 

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Sunday, 11 July 2004

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