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Week of 22 November 2004

Latest Update: Saturday, 27 November 2004 16:10 -0400

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Monday, 22 November 2004

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09:47 - Short week this week. I'll spend today and tomorrow working like mad to try to get a bit ahead of schedule, because we'll spend the rest of the week visiting with friends over Thanksgiving. (Burglars: please see the snake warning from yesterday).

I've been planning out the coming year, and it's not a pretty sight. I'm pretty much booked solid now well into 2006. Of course, I like to be busy, so that's a Good Thing.

I have all sorts of stuff on the way in for the next edition of PC Hardware in a Nutshell. One of the things I need to do is clear the decks for that new stuff by getting rid of some of the old stuff. At times I think the easiest thing would be to haul it all down to an automobile crusher and have them turn it into a small cube of compressed PC parts. On the other hand, a lot of it is still new enough to be useful, so I'll do the responsible thing and spend some time I don't really have to clean it up, clean the data off, and donate it to Senior Services.

I'm also reorganizing my office so that I have an area (and a primary computer) dedicated to each of my major projects. That may sound like conspicuous consumption, but the fact is that it's easier for me if I can have all of the books and other material associated with a project in one place. That way, when I switch from one project to another, I have everything I need in one place instead of having to put stuff away and pull other stuff out.

I'm trying to streamline my work processes as well, to increase the amount of work I can turn out per unit time. We'll see how that goes.


Tuesday, 23 November 2004

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16:15 - If I were serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, these are the guys I'd want watching my back. The name of the organization, Adopt a Sniper, may strike you as a bit odd, but these folks do as much as anyone and more than most to keep our soldiers in combat zones alive and healthy.

Unfortunately, our snipers don't get everything they need as military issue. As snipers, they need specialized equipment and supplies that aren't standard quartermaster issue. Some of it they buy themselves, paying for it out of their own pockets, but not everything they need is available overseas or affordable to someone on a military paycheck. Adopt a Sniper was set up to fill these unmet needs. It's an official 501(c)3 organization, so any contribution you make is tax-deductible.

I'd seen this organization mentioned on a couple of sites. I'd intended to contribute then, but I let that ball drop. This afternoon I was reading Paul Robichaux's site. Paul is a Marine and an all-around good guy, and he announced that he was planning to donate to Adopt a Sniper. How could I do less? So I clicked on the Donate link and found that they accept PayPal. I've just sent them a contribution, and I encourage you to do the same.


Wednesday, 24 November 2004

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10:32 - It is said that one should never watch sausage or laws being made. To that, I propose we add a third category. We don't need to watch wars being fought. I think the military should ban all newspeople from war zones except those U.S. reporters who have been carefully vetted. Any story filed and any video used with a story should be subject to approval by censors. Any reporter who attempts to get around these rules should be subject to summary military justice, up to and including death by firing squad.

What of the Bill of Rights, you ask? Well, as anyone who reads these pages knows, I am a rabid proponent of the Bill of Rights and a strict constructionist. However, those Rights apply only to U.S. citizens within the U.S. The military is not and should not be under any obligation to give the press free reign in overseas combat areas. The military should tightly control access to such areas. Any foreign or unapproved U.S. news crew caught in a combat zone should be summarily shot for spying.

I haven't watched any of the coverage of the Marine who shot in self-defense and has been crucified by the news. I didn't need to. I knew from reading the descriptions from CNN and other outrages so-called news sources that that Marine had acted properly. I'd have done exactly what he did. So would any sane person. But the news sources are playing it for all it's worth as some sort of "war crime". Jesus Christ.

It all started with Viet Nam, which was the first war to be broadcast live into our living rooms. And it's no coincidence that the U.S. abandoned its Vietnamese allies and ran with its tail between its legs. If you watched the news back then--I did--you'd have thought the Tet Offensive was a massive win for the Communists, when in fact it was an unmitigated disaster.

The U.S. was winning in Viet Nam. When the North Vietnamese first attempted a massive invasion, they got their heads handed to them, almost literally. The second time they came down in waves, they'd have been slaughtered again had not a Democratic Congress withdrawn all support almost literally overnight. Television news was the reason. The Democrats couldn't stand the political heat, so they sold out, abandoning our allies. It was a shameful moment. And television news was the reason.

The same happened in Gulf War I and now in Gulf War II. The television news crews are there watching everything and twisting what they see and hear to reflect unfavorably on our men and women who are risking their lives in battle against an enemy. Trivialities like the Al Graib prison mess are blown out of proportion by the television news, in the process giving aid and comfort to our enemies. The television news portrays a Marine doing his job as some kind of war criminal.

I've had enough. It's time to ban news crews from war zones. If people want to know what's happening, let them watch reports produced by military reporters and video filmed by military camera crews. If the television news wants gory film to lure viewers, let them run footage of terrorists beheading civilians. Now that's a war crime.


Thursday, 25 November 2004

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10:25 - Happy Thanksgiving to my US readers. We had cinnamon buns straight from the oven this morning, so I've already overeaten. I think I'll go lie around like a beached whale for a while.


Friday, 26 November 2004

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09:45 - I keep thinking about calendar rationalization. We have another opportunity coming up in 2007. That's plenty of time to fix all the world's software and other systems if we start now. Think of it as a Y2K project, but with a real purpose. 2007 could be the first year in which we have thirteen months--January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, Thompson, September, October, November, and December--each with 28 days. That's 364 days, so we'd have an intercalendary day between 31 December 2007 and 1 January 2008. That day would have no name, no number, and not belong to any week or month.

Here's what the calendar would look like every month.


Think of the advantages. Right now, if someone asked you what day of the week 17 August 2032 falls on, you'd probably have to think for a moment. With my proposed new calendar system, you'd know immediately that 17 August 2032 would be a Wednesday. There would be huge advantages for banking, finance, manufacturing, and any other human endeavor that runs on a schedule.

While we're at it, we might think about moving Luna just a bit closer, to put it on a 28.00000-day orbit.


Saturday, 27 November 2004

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16:10 - Brian and Marcia Bilbrey left about 9:30 this morning to drive home to Bowie, Maryland, after spending most of the week with us. We all had a very relaxing time, including the four dogs. Even Malcolm behaved pretty well after the first couple of days.

Barbara and Marcia did girl stuff, like shopping and hitting the craft fair. Brian and I watched Buffy and Blackadder and did guy stuff, like refettling my network and visiting Paul Jones' and Mary Chervenak's home to figure out what we needed to do to get wireless set up for them on their Roadrunner connection.

Doing that is a bit more complex than one might expect because Mary works from home and has a virtual private network running over her company-supplied Roadrunner broadband connection. Mary's company doesn't have any problem with her using the broadband connection outside work hours for personal use but they do of course want to make sure that company data remains secure.

Our Prime Directive going in was, "First, do no harm." We had to make sure that putting a wireless router between the cable modem and the Cisco VPN adapter wouldn't screw up the VPN. So we carried over my D-Link DI-624 wireless router to test it. Brian unplugged Mary's docking station from the cable modem. He then connected and configured the DI-624 and then connected Mary's docking station to one of the 100BaseT LAN ports on the wireless router. Everything worked normally without requiring any special configuration to support VPN-passthrough, so we unplugged the router and put everything back as it had been. Once Paul and Mary get their own DI-624, I'll get them set up to share their broadband connection securely.

Once we finished there, we came back to our house and installed the D-Link wireless router in place of meepmeep, an AMD Duron system running Mandrake Linux and iptables that's been our border router for a year or two. Brian runs Xandros Linux, which doesn't yet support 802.11g and WPA, on his notebook, so we temporarily set up the wireless router to use WEP. I'll get that reconfigured for 802.11g and WPA as soon as Xandros supports those standards. Meanwhile, the radio will be turned off.

One of the nice things about using the wireless router instead of the Linux box is that with the router it's easier to open up ports for specific purposes. While Brian was here, I wanted to make sure we got things set up so that I could use BitTorrent. My long-range plans involve dropping our cable TV service and standard telephone service and switching everything over to IP-based services accessed via broadband.

Of course, broadband is an order of magnitude less reliable than traditional services like analog dialtone, so switching over to VoIP and similar broadband services will mean I'll need to set up an 802.11*-based peering arrangement with others in our neighborhood. If we have Roadrunner, one of our neighbors has xDSL from the phone company, and still another has broadband over power line service, we can set things up so that we all have access to broadband service as long as any one of us has a working broadband connection. That'll go a long way toward smoothing out short-term service failures by any one (or two) of the providers.

Once I get that set up, we can drop our analog telephone service and sign up with a VoIP provider like Vonage. Prices for VoIP service are dropping already, and are likely to get even lower in the not-too-distant future. Within the next couple of years, I expect VoIP prices to stabilize somewhere in the $10/month range for unlimited local and long-distance service. Broadband service should also get cheaper, particularly as broadband over power lines is deployed. The power companies will be formidable competitors to the cable and telephone companies, particularly since the power companies' motivation is not so much to make money on broadband service itself as to have direct connections to the electricity meters, which allows them to dispense with meter readers, and, more importantly, allows them to institute rates that vary by time of day and the amount of load on their system.

As all of this comes to pass, I can see television via BitTorrent becoming a major issue. Right now, the emphasis is on file sharing via P2P networks of music and movies. I think that traffic will eventually be dwarfed by file sharing of television programs. And that brings up some interesting legal questions. Right now, there are many things that are unquestionable legal:

1. I can watch a television program over-the-air or by cable or satellite service if I've paid for those services.

2. I can record a television program on my VCR or PVR/DVR and watch it a day later or five years later.

3. If I've recorded a television program, I can give the tape or disc to a friend, who is legally entitled to watch it.

So, that brings up some interesting questions. Barbara enjoys watching Left Wing. We can watch it now via cable TV. Even if we didn't subscribe to cable TV, we can watch it over-the-air. We can record it to tape or disc and watch it later. If we happen to be away on Wednesday evening and forget to set up to record the program, we can legally get a tape or disc of it from a friend who's recorded it and watch that tape or disc.

So, what if instead of using traditional recording means, such as disc or tape, we instead choose to download Left Wing via BitTorrent? How is that different--morally, ethically, or legally--from recording it ourselves or getting a recording from a friend? The answer, of course, is that it isn't different at all. We're entitled to watch the program. They did, after all, broadcast it.

But I predict that as BitTorrent continues to grow--it is already responsible for more Internet traffic than the web, email, or other P2P services--the reaction of the television networks will make what the RIAA and MPAA have been doing look tame. I expect there to be attempts to legislate BitTorrent out of existence. That'll be tough, because one of the yardsticks (at least for now) is that a technology is legal if it has "substantial non-infringing uses", which BitTorrent indisputably does.

If the networks were smart, which they're not, they'd go with the flow instead of trying to hold back the tide. Cable companies, satellite companies, and local television stations are all middlemen that stand between the networks and their customers. If the networks were smart, they'd see direct delivery as an opportunity to eliminate or greatly reduce the middlemen's share of the pie rather than as a threat.

If the networks should have learned one thing from the popularity of VCRs, TiVo's, video stores, NetFlix, and similar things, it is that people want to watch what they want to watch when they want to watch it. In other words, the whole concept of broadcasting is obsolete, and maintaining a huge and costly infrastructure to support that broadcast mechanism is senseless. Instead, the networks and other content distributors should be focusing on direct delivery.

Want the latest episode of Left Wing? That'll be $0.50, please. You want an episode from the first season? Fine, we discount our backlist to $0.25 per episode. Or how about the entire first season, which is on special this week? You can download all 22 episodes for only $3.99. No DRM. No commercials. We earn our money from our customers, period.

You can even send a copy to your friends if you want to. We're not stopping you by legal or technical means, but there's really no point to doing that. It's easier and faster to download it from the local server at your ISP. An episode only costs $0.25 or $0.50, after all. In fact, there's not much point to storing it locally. It'll cost you more than that in disk space or a blank DVD, not to mention the hassles of storing everything and finding what you want when you want it. If you want to watch something again, it's easier just to pay for it again. In fact, we have an all-you-can-eat plan. For just $10/month, you can download as much of our backlist as you want, as often as you want. And signing up for that plan also gets you discounts on current episodes, new movies, and sporting and other current events.

Geez, these people are morons. They're trying desperately to sell buggywhips long after the automobile has made horses obsolete.

Barbara went to get her Saturnalia Tree, and is now running around now unpacking boxes full of Saturnalia ornaments and setting them up in the library.

Here's one you probably won't hear about on the Microsoft Get the FUD page. The UK Department for Work and Pensions planned to upgrade their 100,000 desktop PCs from Windows 2000 to Windows XP. Before deploying the upgrade to all of the department's desktop systems, the sysadmins wisely chose to do a test roll-out. They decided to test the deployment on seven systems.

Unfortunately, it seems the Microsoft deployment software went berserk. When the smoke cleared, the Microsoft "upgrade" had killed 80,000 systems, none of which were any longer running Windows 2000 and none of which had been "upgraded" to Windows XP. Eighty thousand dead systems. What are the chances that Microsoft will include the costs of this catastrophe the next time they trot out their bogus TCO figures? The words snowball and hell come to mind.

I am tempted to do a real TCO study, factoring in issues that Microsoft always conveniently forgets to include. Things like the very real and very high cost of dealing with viruses, Trojans, worms, and other malware, both in terms of prevention and in terms of dealing with the inevitable infections. Things like the unscalability of Windows Server from an administration point of view. Microsoft always claims that Windows admins cost less than Linux admins. They may even be right, although I doubt it nowadays. But what they never mention is that a competent Linux admin can administer many, many more servers than an equally competent Windows admin.


Sunday, 28 November 2004

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