Monday, 15 November 2004
[Monday] [Tuesday] [Wednesday]
[Friday] [Saturday] [Sunday]
- Brian Bilbrey sends
along a link with a suggestion
that I consider this snazzy little ASG (Anti-Santa Gun) for the coming
Winter Solstice attempt to bring down Santa and his sleigh.
Brian suggests I nail Santa when he's at his most vulnerable, at
landing or take-off. I have to admit I'm not optimistic. Everything
I've tried in the past, from reindeer nets to Stingers to a ZSU-23/4,
has failed to bring down Santa. But I suppose this may work. I've
emailed Heckler & Koch to ask them to send me an eval unit with
1,000 rounds of HE frag belted, with tracer every fourth round.
I may have to get Tim Taylor's help to modify it, though. I notice
the cyclic rate is only 350 RPM. That's perfect for the weapon's
intended use, but an ASG needs a much higher cyclic rate, somewhere up
around the 1,200 RPM of an MG-42. I'll set up the HK GMG in the back
yard, camouflage it, and put out the usual milk and cookie bait. I
might talk to one of our neighbors about using their roof and chimney,
though. I'd hate to mess up our new roof.
I've always liked HK firearms, although I've only ever owned one.
That was one of the small number of HK-41 assault rifles imported by
Golden State Arms in 1966. The BATF blew it on that one, and they hated
the GSA HK-41s ever after. The GSA HK-41 was in effect a military G-3
assault rifle, and was selective fire, or at least the model I had was.
It may have had a civilian trigger group replaced with a military
trigger group. I don't know. I bought it at a gun show in 1979, played
with it as is for a year or so, and then resold it at another gun show.
But it was fun to play with...
The selector lever was blocked from being moved up beyond the
single-fire position to the rock-and-roll position by a small metal
nub. That was easy enough to get around, though. The trigger group was
secured by two pins, one at the front at the magazine well, and one
behind the trigger group. All you needed to do to bypass the stop was
push out the pin behind the trigger group, pivot the trigger group
downward, rotate the selector lever counter-clockwise to the full-auto
position, pivot the trigger group back up, and re-insert the pin. It
took literally a couple seconds to do that.
I sold it because having it made me nervous. It was, as far as I
knew, completely legal, but it was also an unregistered machine gun.
That and the fact that I couldn't afford to feed it. I bought it, IIRC,
for $600, plus $300 more for the matching Zeiss scope. I think I sold
both the HK-41 and the Zeiss scope for $1,200 or $1,500. Nowadays, with
the scope, I suspect it'd be worth $10,000 easily.
Eric Raymond has posted an excellent article, Islamofascism and
the Rage of Augustine.
The article concludes, "But we will not
be able to understand and squarely confront the evil at the heart of
Islam, Naziism, and Communism, until we face the fact that all three
of these monsters are Augustine's progeny, and that same evil is
embedded in Christianity itself." It's well worth the time to read the
article to discover how ESR comes to that conclusion.
Tuesday, 16 November 2004
[Monday] [Tuesday] [Wednesday]
[Thursday] [Friday] [Saturday]
[Sunday] [Next Week]
- N|vu is starting to annoy me. Periodically, for no apparent
reason, it refuses to publish. Ordinarily, I click the Publish icon,
which brings up a Publish dialog. After checking the settings on that
dialog, I click the Publish button and N|vu displays a status dialog
that names each file as it's published and puts up a little icon next
to the filename as publishing completes. But sometimes when I click on
the Publish button in the dialog, nothing happens. No error message,
nothing. The dialog simply disappears, and nothing is published. I've
taken to using gFTP to publish files manually.
C|NET has published a pretty good article that summarizes the actions
of Microsoft vis-a-vis the SCO vs. IBM debacle. They don't get it
all right, but they do get it mostly right, and only someone like me
who follows Groklaw pretty
closely would notice the minor errors and omissions. Basically, the
article concludes that Microsoft has behaved underhandedly, but not
broken any laws, which is about right.
One thing that comes through loud and clear in the article is
Microsoft's desperation. Whenever I read something like this, I always
have a mental image of Microsoft as a gigantic dinosaur lying on its
side, surrounded by tiny mammals stabbing it with their tiny spears.
Microsoft's tail is thrashing about, doing immense damage, but that
doesn't change the fact that it's doomed to become a footnote of
history and that the Linux mammals will inherit the earth. It almost
makes me feel sorry for the dinosaur. Almost.
And here's a sad tale from Belgium.
Date: Mon, 15
Nov 2004 22:32:05 +0000
I know you
are fascinated by figures. And by government. I found some figures for
Belgium that might interest you.
923.000 people in public service. That's 193.412 federal, 363.218 in
the states (190.368 in Flanders), 285.843 in provinces and communities.
And with 77.575 in special copses (military, police, courts, Council of
State, diplomats, etc. ) and 2860 clerks in parliament. That is 1 civil
servant for every 11 inhabitants (1 per 17 in Flanders). Counting up to
26.42 percent of payed employees and 20.4 of the working population. In
Flanders it comes out at 14.2% of the working population (Walony has
22.77%) It equates to 25 civil servants per square kilometer.
23.996 politicians (I am not sure whether they are counted among the
civil servants). 242 of which are federal (ministers and an
parliamentaries), 340 in the states, 811 in the provinces and 16.757 in
the communities. Going down means you get more of them which is
logical. (I know the numbers don't count up because there are some -ex
senate, arrondisment- not counted. ) It amounts to 1 politician for
every 430 inhabitants (1 per 467 in Flanders). And 1 actual minister in
government for every 214.786 inhabitants. That's 1 politician for ever
1.36 square kilometer.
No I am not
proud. I wonder how things are over in the US.
Wow. You have my sympathy. It's hard to imagine how you and the rest of
the productive Belgians can get anything done with that many
politicians on your backs. It's not quite that bad over here, at least
in terms of politicians per square kilometer.
Just a suggestion, but over here we have an open season on deer every
year to prevent their populations from growing beyond what the
environment can support. It sounds to me as if Belgium desperately
needs to have an open season on politicians to weed them down to a more
reasonable level, say one per every 100 square kilometers. Unlike deer,
politicians aren't edible, but you could at least have their heads
stuffed and mount them over your fireplaces.
Wednesday, 17 November 2004
[Wednesday] [Thursday] [Friday]
[Sunday] [Next Week]
Years Ago Today]
- I'm going back to Windows. Well, not really, but I am going to
have to use Windows part-time. I'm working on stubbing out some
chapters for an astronomy book, and I need to use charting and other
astronomy software that runs only on Windows. I suppose I could muck
about with CrossOver Office or WINE, but it's just a lot simpler and
more satisfactory to run Windows XP. Besides which, I need at least one
Windows XP test-bed system running to do screen shots for the new
edition of PC Hardware in a Nutshell,
so I might as well kill two stones with one bird.
So, here's a typical day's challenges for me. I have several systems
sitting around here that are ideal candidates for the new Windows box.
The trouble is, Windows won't load on any of them. Or at least the
Windows XP discs I have, which are original discs with no service packs
or patches, won't load. They don't know about Serial ATA, they don't
know about recent Intel chipsets, they don't know about much at all.
And, of course, I've built these systems without floppy disk drives,
and Windows XP Setup is too freaking stupid to let me provide updated
drivers via CD rather than floppy. One option is to install an FDD, but
that's ridiculous. The other option is to build a slipstreamed Windows
XP CD with all the latest patches. I decided to do the latter.
Which brings up the question of how to build a slipstreamed Windows XP
distribution CD. I could do it the manual way, copying the original
distro disc to the the hard drive, along with SP2 and any other patches
I wanted to install, running a manual update with the appropriate
command-line switches to update the disk-based copy, using ISO Buster
to pull the necessary data from the original distro CD to make the new
CD bootable, creating a new ISO image, and then burning a new bootable
But when I was doing a sanity check on Pournelle's latest column, I
noticed he mentioned a product called nLite, which automates that
whole process (and does a lot of other stuff besides) for Windows 2000,
XP, and 2003. Here's what the main menu looks like.
So I downloaded nLite, but it turns out it requires Microsoft .NET
Framework 1.1 along with SP1 for that product. So I downloaded all of
those and installed them on the Windows 2000 Professional system that
used to be my primary desktop system. I hated to do that, because now I
wonder what nasties I installed without knowing I was installing them.
But this machine is not long for this world anyway. It'll be stripped
down and be repurposed as a Linux box or donated to Senior Services
with bare drives, so I guess I can live with having .NET installed for
With nLite installed, the original XP distro files copied to
/distros/wxp/original and the 270+ MB XP SP2 file copied to
/distros/wxp/sp2, I ran nLite. It found the original distro files, and
found and uncompressed the SP2 file. However, when it attempted to
apply the SP2 files to the original distro files, I got a Windows GPF
I thought about that a moment and convinced myself that perhaps
applying SP2 required that SP1a be applied first. So I copied the SP1a
executable to the /distros/wxp/sp2 directory and started nLite again.
This time, I pointed it to the SP1a file, which it extracted and
applied correctly. At that point, I figured I'd have smooth sailing, so
I ran nLite again, and again told it to apply SP2. It blew up again
with an update.exe GPF. Hmmm.
The only thing I could think of was that the SP2 executable had somehow
been corrupted. It extracted okay, which argued against it being
corrupt, but what other possibilities were there? So I downloaded SP2
again from Microsoft, and again ran nLite. Once again, the process blew
up with an update.exe GPF. Crap.
At that point, I wondered if SP1a would be good enough. The original XP
Pro distro doesn't recognize Serial ATA, but perhaps XP with SP1a
applied would. So I told nLite to go ahead and generate an ISO. It did
so, and I burned the ISO to a CD-R. As a first test, I installed
XP/SP1a on a system that's recent but doesn't have any cutting edge
stuff installed. That appeared to complete normally, so I decided to
try installing XP/SP1a on the system I really want to run it on, which
is an Intel D925XCV motherboard with PCI Express video, S-ATA drives,
and so on.
The copyright pigopolists are at
it again. This time, the RIAA and MPAA have marshaled all their
bought-and-paid-for Congressional lackeys to force an obnoxious new
copyright bill through the lame-duck Congress.
When I wrote some years ago that these SOBs would eventually get a bill
passed that made it illegal to skip commercials, people told me I was
exaggerating. Well, this bill--you guessed it--makes it illegal to skip
commercials. You're still allowed to fast-forward through portions of
the program itself, but it will be illegal to fast-forward past
commercials and all devices and software will be required to enforce
that provision. The bill doesn't actually require us to watch the
commercials. It's still legal to use the bathroom or grab a snack while
commercials are running. For now, anyway. The RIAA and MPAA plan to
close that loophole in subsequent legislation.
I told Barbara last night that, whether or not this bill actually
passes, I've really had it. Barbara now watches only one regular
program, Left Wing, and it
probably won't be on much longer. We can get weather and news from the
web. Barbara said, "Okay, when this TV dies, we just won't buy a new
I'd actually like to go further than that. I'd like to move the
"goddamn noisy box", as Jubal Harshaw called it, to the closet and pull
it out only under extraordinary circumstances like natural disasters.
I'd stick a pair of rabbit ears on it. That gives us the local
stations, which we could watch in emergencies. We can stop paying
Time-Warner Cable $60 a month or whatever it is they charge us for the
TV feed, and just keep the cable modem service. That $60 a month would
buy a lot of books.
And I do wish Barbara would stop buying CDs from RIAA companies. I've
been meaning to introduce her to Magnatune,
whose slogan is, "We're a record company, but we're not evil". That,
and encourage her to buy directly from the artists.
Actually, the whole idea of copyrighting recorded music and movies is
unconstitutional. Congress is granted the power to pass laws that
provide copyright protection for "authors and their writings". Period.
The Constitution does not give Congress power to provide copyright
protection for recorded music and movies. Any law that provides such
protection for recorded music and movies is unconstitutional on the
face of it in the absence of a Constitutional amendment to give
Congress that power.
I do wish the EFF or someone would raise a Constitutional challenge to
these laws, not to mention to the unconscionable extension of copyright
terms. We need to get back to the way things were intended to be.
Copyrights lasting at most a few years, and patents lasting no more
than one year. The Founding Fathers, particularly Tom Jefferson, were
extremely uncomfortable with the very idea of copyrights and patents,
and time has shown those fears to be justified.
- I just spent 45 minutes on the phone with some nice folks from
Falcon Electric, who make
high-grade UPSs and SPSs. Jerry Pournelle has been recommending their
dual-conversion ("true") UPSs for years, and I decided it was time to
listen to Jerry's advice and take a look at some of their products.
They're sending me eval samples of their true UPS and line-interactive
SPSs. I'll install them in my office and Barbara's and give them a
I've been thinking about revising my SPS recommendations for some time
now. In the last few years, SPSs have gone from being niche products to
mainstream products. You can find them at Best Buy and Wal*Mart now. In
one sense, that's good, because having an SPS is better than not having
one. But I've been concerned by the falling prices of these units. I
saw one APC unit at Wal*Mart for under $30. It looked like an
outlet-strip surge protector, but had battery backup built in. How
reliable can that protection be? It's like saving money when you go
shopping for a parachute.
And it's not just the cheapest units that concern me. I've also watched
prices plummet on mainstream units. I remember when an inexpensive APC
650 VA Back-UPS unit sold for $250. Now you can find a similar model
for half that. Now, lower prices are good, no doubt, but Moore's Law
doesn't apply to SPSs. They're simple devices--a battery, an inverter,
and a switch. There's only so much room for cutting costs by increasing
production efficiency and economies of scale. After that, cost
reductions have to come from using lower grade components.
So I decided it was time to take a look at better grade units. I'm also
going to look at true UPSs for the first time. In the past, a true UPS
cost much, much more than an SPS, even a good one. If a good SPS of a
given size sold for $500, a true UPS of similar capacity might sell for
$1,000 to $1,500. That's apparently no longer true. The retail price on
one Falcon SPS we talked about is $579. A Falcon true UPS of similar
capacity lists for $725. More, certainly, but not excessively so given
the benefits of a true UPS.
- The lady from Wilson Pest Insulters just called to say it's
time for our annual inspection. Unfortunately, there's not much they
can do about termites any more, since the federal government in effect
put termites on the protected species list. The damned EPA, as usual
without any scientific basis for doing so, banned the chemicals that
actually control termites. Gone are the days when pest control
companies could lay down a barrier of lindane, chlordane, heptachlor,
or something else that lasted forever and actually killed termites.
Nowadays, the pest control companies are limited to using stuff that
doesn't last for long and doesn't actually work. As the guy who was out
retreating our house some years ago said, "this new stuff doesn't
actually kill them, it just hurts their feelings." At least our house
was built in 1968 and so has a pretty good barrier remaining. I have
sympathy for people who build new homes in areas subject to termite
infestations. There's nothing on the market they can use to provide an
effective barrier. The best they can hope for is that if they retreat
often enough they'll be able to keep the termites from eating their
If we ever built a new house, I'd wait until they'd dug the foundations
and then one night I'd put down a heavy barrier layer of the good stuff
myself. Or I would if I happened to have some of it hidden away.
18 November 2004
[Wednesday] [Thursday] [Friday]
[Sunday] [Next Week]
- Microsoft Internet Explorer is in the news again. C|Net says, "Microsoft's
Internet Explorer has become a turkey shoot for flaw finders", with
19 new vulnerabilities exposed in the last two months, including some
exploitable flaws in systems patched with XP SP2.
Microsoft complains, as it often does, that it is "concerned that this
new report of a vulnerability in
Internet Explorer was not disclosed responsibly, potentially putting
computer users at risk." Well, perhaps that's because Microsoft has a
nasty habit of ignoring vulnerability reports, often for literally
months, until they are made public.
C|NET goes on to say, in another article, that "Microsoft
says IE updates possible." C|NET reports, rather generously I
think, that IE "saw its last major upgrade in August 2001." In fact,
it's been a lot longer than that. IE 6.0 was a trivial upgrade of IE
5.0, which in turn was a trivial upgrade of IE 4.0. IE 4.0 was a good
browser for its time, good enough to make the then-current version of
Netscape look bad, and to cause Netscape users to abandon it in droves.
And that was all Microsoft wanted. Since IE 4.0, they've done basically
nothing to enhance their browser. In a very real sense, Internet
Explorer is abandonware.
If you're still using IE, do yourself a big favor. Install Mozilla Suite
lock up IE completely, delete the active scripting executables
wscript.exe and cscript.exe, and disable IE as the default browser. It
takes five minutes and it does more than anything to protect you from
viruses, Trojans, worms, and spyware. More than installing a virus
scanner. More than installing a spyware scanner. More than installing
Microsoft updates. More even than installing a firewall.
While you're at it, do your friends, family, and neighbors a favor by
installing Mozilla Suite or Firefox for them. You'll be giving them a
modern browser that's worlds ahead of IE functionally and orders of
magnitude more secure. Friends don't let friends use IE.
Speaking of security, Brian
Bilbrey posted a link to one of Rick Moen's "rants", this one about
and viruses. If you still believe the Microsoft party-line FUD that
claims Microsoft software is victimized so often only because it's
ubiquitous, go read this article. The frequency of attacks on Microsoft
software, as I've said all along, has nothing to do with its market
share. They occur because Microsoft software is fundamentally flawed.
Linux does not suffer from these flaws, and Moen argues convincingly
that virus scanners for Linux are not needed.
I remember an old Far Side cartoon that showed a pile of meat under a
meat grinder that had a human arm hanging off the handle, with a cop
standing there looking on. The caption said, "Most determined case of
suicide I've ever seen." That is about the level of cooperation a Linux
"virus" requires from you to damage your system. Unlike exploits
against Windows, many of which do not require the user to do anything
at all out of the ordinary, Linux exploits require extraordinary levels
of user cooperation. You have to not just shoot yourself in the foot,
but shoot yourself in the foot repeatedly. Let's look at the relative
effort involved for a typical exploit against Windows versus that
required for an exploit against Linux:
Windows: Visit a malicious website or
receive an infected email. For many Windows exploits, that's all you
need to do. You're toast. Your system is "owned" and will probably soon
be functioning as a spam relay or, worse, a zombie server for child
Linux: Receive an email with an infected attachment. Manually save that
attachment to disk. Log off and log back on as root. Use chmod to
change the infected file to executable. Run the infected executable
As Moen says, anyone stupid enough to go through those hoops to run an
executable from an unknown source has more to worry about than being
infected by a virus. And as the number of users stupid enough to go
through all these hoops asymptotically approaches zero, Linux "viruses"
can't spread, which kind of takes the fun out of being a virus.
If you still believe Microsoft's market-share FUD, go read this article.
- Microsoft is up to more of its usual charming tricks. Here's
Steve Ballmer showed the world Microsoft's true colors today and what
their nasty strategy against Linux really is. He gave
in Singapore at Microsoft's Asian Government Leaders Forum and told
them that he thinks Linux violates patents, though he wasn't specific,
and someday, someone will come after governments that switch to
GNU/Linux, and sue them for those IP "violations":
They used to
muscle other IT companies. Now they are threatening
governments of the world. What a charming company. Use their product
and you won't get hurt. Otherwise, watch out for your kneecaps. No
doubt that endeared them greatly to one and all and as for fears, well,
how could you not trust a company whose CEO is so pleasant?
Dvorak sees Microsoft building up to offering a Microsoft Linux. Given
the above warning, that seems unlikely. But Dvorak's alternative theory
may have substance. Here's
what he thinks the Vintela and Connectix purchases and the Lindows
I don't doubt they're right about Microsoft's intentions, but I'm less
concerned than they are about the results. I remember thinking when
Microsoft paid Sun a lot of money and Sun announced they'd open source
(although not GPL) Solaris that Microsoft wanted Solaris for themselves
for some reason. This may be it.
As to a patent attack on Linux, I've said before I think that's doomed
to fail. Microsoft will be bringing a knife to a gun fight if they take
on IBM, Novell, and the many other IT companies that are staunch
defenders of Linux. But that's the least of it, really. Every day,
Linux becomes more entrenched in corporate America IT departments. If
Microsoft truly wages open war on Linux, they'll find that they're up
against not just IBM, Novell, and other IT companies, but against
Microsoft should learn a lesson from their stalking horse SCO. SCO
thought their lawsuit would be a slam-dunk, and instead they get their
head handed to them every time they show up in court. SCO is going
down, down, down, and if Microsoft has any sense they'll learn by SCO's
Unlike others, I didn't take yesterday's announcement that Microsoft
was taking a minority position in Vintela as any indication that
Microsoft had any real interest in Vintela the company or in its
products. Instead, I think this is just another way for Microsoft to
funnel money to SCO to keep the pot boiling. SCO is now dangerously
short of cash, and the last thing Microsoft wants is for the SCO suit
to fail from lack of funds. So Microsoft kicks in another $10 million
or so, which is pocket change to them, and funds SCO's suit for another
couple quarters or so.
- I periodically check my website logs to keep track of how many
people are using Linux rather than Windows and Mozilla/Firefox rather
than IE. For the month of November to date, 14.4% of my traffic is from
Linux boxes and 59.2% from Mozilla browsers. Although my visitors are
more clued-in technically than average, those are still very nice
numbers for both Linux and Mozilla.
I wonder what they'll be a year from now. I'll guess that Linux should
be up to 30% and Mozilla to 85%. Remind me to check back in a year to
find out how close I came.
- It was a year ago today that we had to take Kerry on his final
visit to the vet. He was an old dog, a month short of 16 years, and it
was a miracle that he lasted as long as he did. He came to live with us
when he was about four, when we moved my mom in with us. Barbara had
never had a dog before, and she worried more about having Kerry living
with us than about having my mom living with us.
Barbara mentioned Kerry last night, and she was obviously still upset
about losing him. I told her then what I tell anyone in the same
situation. When Kerry died, at that instant somewhere else a Border
Collie pup was born. That pup is Kerry, although I'm sure that the
little girl who owns him (and he, her) has given him another name. So
Kerry turns one year old today. And the cycle continues.
19 November 2004
[Saturday] [Sunday] [Next
- I had a duh moment yesterday. All of our primary client
systems and several others are running Xandros Linux. Other than
test-bed systems, the PVR (which is currently in pieces in my
workroom), and a couple of other minor exceptions, the only Windows box
in the house is my old primary desktop, messier, which I converted into an ad hoc file server.
Windows Networking is easy, Linux networking less so. With an eye to
the day when we won't have any production Windows systems around here,
I've been playing around a bit with Linux networking, particularly NFS
(Network File System) and CUPS (Common Unix Printing System). Neither
is particularly user-friendly, even in the Xandros implementation. In
fact, OSS luminary Eric Raymond delivered
a rant not long ago about how user-hostile cups is. Suffice it to
say that even ESR had problems getting CUPS configured and working. For
a Linux newbie like me, getting shares established and accessing those
shares from other clients, whether they be Windows or Linux systems, is
non-trivial to put it mildly.
My duh moment came when I realized there was absolutely no need to run
Unix protocols even on an all-Xandros network. Instead, I can use
Windows shares under Xandros to provide access to network volumes and
printers, whether to other Xandros systems or to Windows clients. It's
ironic that Xandros Linux makes it much easier to create and access
Windows shares than Unix shares, but there it is. Duh.
So, before long I'm going to shut down messier permanently and serve files
and printers from Xandros. I think I can do so without much disruption.
Currently, Barbara's and my data are in the /usr root-level
subdirectory of the C: drive on messier.
The C: drive is shared as messier_c,
so a typical UNC filename is //messier_c/usr/thompson/ora/booknotes.sxw,
which Windows clients see as f:/usr/thompson/ora/booknotes.sxw.
For Windows clients and apps, there's not much problem. I can simply
set up a directory structure on a Xandros box, say hypatia (my main
desktop), and redefine the Windows share for f: as that directory
structure. There may be a bigger problem with Xandros clients and
applications that don't use the Windows drive letters, but I'll think
that through and see what I come up with. At worst, I may have to
reconfigure our apps to point to a different servername and top-level
directory, but that should be easy enough to do.
20 November 2004
[Saturday] [Sunday] [Next
21 November 2004
[Saturday] [Sunday] [Next
- This coming week will be a quiet one around here. Barbara and
I will work Monday and Tuesday and then take the rest of the week off
to visit with friends over the Thanksgiving holiday.
(Warning to burglars: Ignore this at your peril. When we are away from
home, we leave George, our guard rattlesnake, with free run of the
house. George is a 7-foot Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake and is not
defanged. Generally, George is pretty laid-back, but he's shedding his
skin again, which always puts him in a bad mood. Ordinarily, he lives
in a terrarium downstairs, but we let him out when we and the dogs are
going to be away from home. Don't mess with George. And this year
George is joined by Martha, our new female Eastern Diamondback
rattlesnake. She's a couple feet shorter than George, but more
© 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 by Robert Bruce
Thompson. All Rights Reserved.