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Week of 12 July 2004

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Monday, 12 July 2004

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{Five Years Ago Today]


8:57 - Barbara and I drove up to the Wake Forest University Lodge at Fancy Gap, Virginia Saturday afternoon for the WSAL astronomy field trip. Paul Jones and Steve Childers were also up there. We had the lodge reserved for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday nights, but as it turned out the weather was so cloudy that we all came back Sunday afternoon. There wasn't any point to using up vacation days if the weather didn't co-operate, which it didn't.

While we were up there, I was reading Heinz Guderian's Panzer Leader. Barbara was reading Lynne Truss's delightful Eats, Shoots & Leaves, which she'd borrowed from Mary Chervenak. That actually gave me an idea for a new book. Panda Leader, the story of a campaign to wipe out bad grammar using armored columns crewed by pandas.

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Sometime today I should get the PDF galley proofs of the new book, which I'll post over on the subscribers' page. (Click here if you'd like to subscribe.) They'll be up for only a few days. These pages are almost but not quite final. I'll have a few days to go through them in detail to make corrections, additions, and deletions. If you download any of the chapters, I'd appreciate it if you'd check them for errors. If you find any errors, please let me know about them by sending mail to thompson <at> ttgnet (dot) com with the subject line "bpp error".

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I'm still using my old Windows 2000 system as my main office desktop. I got Xandros Desktop 2.0 Linux installed Saturday on the new box, but I'm having video problems with the ATi RADEON 9800 XT video adapter. It runs fine in "Safe Video" mode, but the screen goes all wonky in normal mode. There's not much point to using a high-end 3D graphics card in a non-gaming system anyway, so I'll probably replace the 9800 XT with something more pedestrian.

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13:03 - I sent the following message to my subscribers:

Microsoft has announced that SP2 for XP has been delayed again. They now expect it to ship sometime in August. Apparently, they've run into some compatibility issues that are serious enough to delay deployment of this urgently needed update. [here]

According to my latest information, Microsoft has made the disturbing decision *not* to release the SP2 security fixes to IE for earlier versions of Windows. That means those of us who use Windows 2000 will be stuck with the flawed version of IE that was recently exploited in the Scob incident. Windows 2000 (and Windows 9X) IE users can apply the configuration change that Microsoft released as a stopgap workaround measure, but that configuration change has already been shown to be vulnerable to similar exploits, code for at least one of which is already in the wild.

The recent reports hammering IE for its security vulnerabilities seem to have had some effect. Indeed, the market share for IE has dropped for the first time ever. Granted, the drop was only a single percentage point, from about 96% to about 95%, but one percentage point translates to millions of systems, so perhaps Mozilla is making some inroads. [here]

eWeek, which is not known as an anti-Microsoft rag, has posted some extraordinary articles about this issue. Larry Seltzer, for example, posted "Scriptless IE Not Worth It", which makes the point that if one disables the worst security holes in IE it is crippled to the extent that there is no benefit to using it rather than a modern browser. [here]

Seltzer also has an interesting article, "Microsoft Doesn't Care, So Hack Your Own Update CD", about Microsoft's failure to proliferate security updates in a way that's accessible to users who don't have fat pipes. He mentions Microsoft's one security update CD, which I ordered the day it was announced in January or February. The CD arrived, sure enough with security updates from February 2004, last month. A four-month wait doesn't inspire confidence. Seltzer makes the point that Microsoft should be doing everything they can to flood the Internet with current updated ISOs that those of us with broadband could download, burn to CD, and hand out to friends who use dialup. [here]

Jason Brooks has an interesting opinion piece, "IE Users, Proceed with Caution—If at All", that makes an excellent point. Those who say that changing browsers is impractical for corporations because of the amount of work involved in installing and configuring Mozilla on many clients are ignoring the fact that just as much work is needed to fix IE, to the extent that it can be fixed, on those same clients. [here]

Finally, Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols asks the obvious question, "Isn't Now the Time to Try a Linux Desktop?" [here]

What's interesting to me is that these calls for changing to a different browser or even abandoning Windows are not coming from Linux zealots. They're coming from mainstream IT and business journalists who understand the situation and are giving their best advice to those who are still using Windows and IE.

 

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Tuesday, 13 July 2004

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13:24 - The PDF galleys for Building the Perfect PC are (finally) posted on the Subscribers' Page. O'Reilly posted them as one 800+ MB zip file on their server yesterday, and it took me about 3.5 hours to download it. I've broken them out into individual chapter files and posted them that way. Still, the largest of the chapter files is about 200 MB, so it'll take a while to get them. I'll leave them up on the server until Friday. I have to have all edits back to O'Reilly by next Monday, but I'm shooting for getting them there well before that.

 

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Wednesday, 14 July 2004

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9:37 - Still working heads-down on reviewing the chapter galleys. I spent most of yesterday on Chapter 6, Building a Home Theater PC. That was the first chapter I wrote, and it needed a lot of work to make it similar to the later chapters. In theory, I have until next Monday to finish reviewing the galleys, but I'm shooting to get them done this week. I also need to draft a proposal/TOC for another book between now and then. There won't be much time for me to post here until I'm over the hump.

 

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Thursday, 15 July 2004

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9:28 - Still hard at work revising galleys. I've now returned all of the front matter (copyright page, foreword, etc.), the Preface, and chapters 1, 3, 4, and 6. I have part of chapter 2 done. That leaves chapters 5 and 7 and the balance of chapter 2. I'll try to get most of that done today and the balance tomorrow.

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Here's an interesting article about turning an inexpensive 4X Lite-On DVD writer into an 8X model with double-layer support, merely by updating the firmware. I haven't tried this, and you're on your own if you try it, but it looks like an inexpensive way to get a decent 8X writer with some nifty capabilities. The 8X writes, incidentally, are only for DVD+R. DVD-R remains at 4X. Still, that's not bad for a $70 drive.

 

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Friday, 16 July 2004

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9:58 - Still in the final clean-up stage for Building the Perfect PC. It's due to hit the bookstores in less than 30 days, so we're really pushing hard. One of the O'Reilly production folks told me Monday that they needed an image of Barbara and me for the back cover. Our friend Paul Jones stopped by one evening this week and shot a bunch of images for us. Here's the one Barbara decided we'd use.

bpp-back-cover.jpg (63425 bytes)

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And MozillaQuest proposes that we boycott ASUS.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: ASUS is anti-Linux
Date: Thu, 15 Jul 2004 16:30:33 -0500
From: Michael Hipp
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

I've bought and sold quite a number of ASUS motherboard-equipped systems in the last couple of years (did so on your recommendation and they've worked quite will - thanks) but looks like I won't be buying any more:

http://www.mozillaquest.com/Linux04/Asus_Sucks_Story-01.html

I read the article, and I think boycotting ASUS is overreacting. They're by no means the only company that doesn't explicitly support Linux. They also happen to make the best motherboards on the market other than Intel's, so boycotting them is counterproductive.

It appears to me that ASUS is ignorant rather than malicious, and it seems the better course would be to educate them and try to turn them into a friend of OSS rather than attack them and turn them into an enemy.

 

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Saturday, 17 July 2004

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Sunday, 18 July 2004

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12:34 - There were some thunderstorms in the area last night. None were very near us, but at one point our power started ping-ponging up and down. We were sitting in the den. The TV and VCR went nuts. Our lights were dimming and brightening. And the Antec Aria system under my end table just kept running until the power failed completely. The fluctuations went on for at least a couple minutes, in batches.

I was amazed at how well the Antec Aria power supply held up. That thing must have some hellacious capacitors in it. The display on the monitor was shrinking and expanding as the power fluctuated, but the Aria Xandros Linux box never so much as hiccoughed. I was sitting there moving the mouse around to see when the Aria box would lock up, but it never did.

I was planning to install a small UPS on that system, but I may not bother. Its power supply is obviously good enough to smooth over about 99% of the power glitches that hit it.

 

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