- We didn't spend much time outdoors over the weekend. The
expected winter storm arrived, although we got only an inch or so of
snow with a thin coat of ice covering it. Other areas in the southeast
got considerably more frozen precipitation, along with the inevitable
power failures. We were lucky.
We cleared out the guest suite downstairs in preparation for the rug
cleaning folks to show up tomorrow with their steam cleaning equipment.
Barbara's sister and brother-in-law just ordered some new furniture,
and offered us a good sleeper sofa and love seat, so Barbara wanted to
get things cleaned up before they arrived.
Part II of our latest article, Building
the Perfect PC: Quality on a Budget, is now available for
download from the subscribers
Groklaw has posted an important article entitled, The Future Is Open: What OpenDocument Is
And Why You Should Care. I've read the article and the
associated documents, most particularly Microsoft's
It's clear to anyone who reads between the lines that Microsoft is
striving desperately to prevent truly open document formats from being
adopted. Of course they are. File format lock-in is the primary reason
that Microsoft can extract billions of dollars every year in Office
licensing fees. Make no mistake. Office is one of
Microsoft's two cash cows, the other being Windows. Microsoft is doing
everything possible to preserve their Office hegemony--and the MS
Office revenue stream--and that most definitely includes torpedoing any
move toward truly open file formats.
Microsoft is trying very hard to produce a closed format that appears
to be open. The appearance
of openness without the reality is critical
for them. Accordingly, Microsoft emphasizes "royalty-free" as though
that were all that mattered. It isn't, not by a long shot. A
format is not open if that format must be licensed, or indeed if
Microsoft or any other company controls it.
Microsoft clearly hopes to have MS XML approved as an open format,
although it fails to meet any reasonable standard for being truly open.
In fact, MS XML is just more of the same-old-same-old format lock-in,
just as much under the control of Microsoft as the admittedly
proprietary .doc format. I hope the Massachusetts and European Union
legislators see through this transparent attempt to maintain format
I now use nothing except open formats, such as plain text, html, XML,
PDF, zip, png, and the various OpenOffice.org formats, and I strongly
recommend that everyone else do the same. Using proprietary formats is
For example, I remember some years ago trying to help Jerry Pournelle
recover some documents and databases that he'd created in Q&A. He
no longer had Q&A running on any of his systems. He wasn't able to
locate the original Q&A installation disks. When he finally did
find them, some of the floppies were no longer readable. When he
finally did get a usable set of floppies (sent to him, IIRC, by a
reader), the program refused to install properly on any of his current
systems. I think he finally did get Q&A running by installing
Windows 3.1 on an antique system, but I don't recall if he was ever
able to salvage his data.
And that was data created relatively recently using a program that had
been in popular use within the preceding few years. People who have
data created by once-popular older programs like DisplayWrite or
MultiMate have even more trouble salvaging their data. For now, there
are services available that offer to convert such older formats, but
those services are usually very costly. How long such services will
continue to be available is anyone's guess.
The common thread throughout is that the problem formats are all
proprietary. Plain-text documents created 30 years ago are still easily
readable, as are the earliest HTML documents. I can open zip files I
created 15 years ago, and I can display images created long ago using
standard formats. The simple fact is that using proprietary formats
makes data ephemeral, while using standard formats allows data to live
forever. Which is one of the many reasons why I use OpenOffice.org and
store my documents in its standard XML/zip format.
- The steam-cleaning guy is downstairs right now, cleaning the
carpet in the guest suite. The dogs don't like it a bit. They're lying
as close as possible to the door to downstairs, listening to the
hissing and humming with their ears pricked. They're whimpering
constantly, and every once in a while a bark escapes them.
We have a new book project, and this one's going to be a death march. I
can't say much about it except that it's for O'Reilly and it's not a
computer book. The book needs to be 100% complete and ready to go to
production by mid-April, which is ten weeks from now. I'm starting the
book without a contract. My agent and editor will work out the details.
I don't have time to wait for the contract details to be worked out.
Obviously, things will be a bit sparse around here for the next few
Microsoft does it again. Not satisfied with locking up digital content,
now they're planning to lock up analog content. C|NET just published an
article, Microsoft, Macrovision align on copy
protection, that gives the details.
and copy-protection company Macrovision have struck a deal that will
add a new layer of anticopying defenses to video content being swapped
between home devices.
The two companies said that Microsoft had licensed Macrovision's
technology, which aims to stop people from making copies using analog
connections between devices, such as those that typically link a
set-top box to a television.
The deal could make it harder for consumers to make permanent copies of
TV shows and movies without permission, if they use computers running
the Windows operating system. It should also help convince movie
studios and other content producers to release their products in new
ways online, the companies said."
Yeah, right. Translated, what they're saying is that the movie studios
and Microsoft want us to pay every time we watch something, and that
they want a cut each time. These folks are the implacable enemies of
Fair Use, and this is just the latest nail in its coffin.
Yet another good reason to abandon Microsoft software, as if we needed
Wednesday, 2 February 2005
Barbara and I have 66 days left to write a book. Mark Brokering,
O'Reilly's Marketing Director, called me last night, and said if I
could get to 100% completion by mid-April we could make the deadline
for a big national bookstore chain promotion that would increase sales
of the book significantly. So I told him I'd have the book 100%
complete by 10 April. So I'm going to have to push the throttle past
the stops and go into afterburner between now and then.
One of my subscribers kindly offered to lend me his boxed set of Upstairs, Downstairs,
which is 68 episodes on something like 20 DVDs. We have the series on
VHS tapes that we recorded off-the-air, but I'd like to see this series
again. Most films and television programs fall into my
not-worth-watching-once category. A select few are worth-watching-once.
An even smaller minority are in the worth-watching-repeatedly category.
Upstairs, Downstairs is
definitely in the final category.
On an entirely unrelated note, I have two spindles of Verbatim 8X/12X
DVD+R discs sitting here, on top of ripper,
the Windows system with dvdshrink
installed. The DVD drive in ripper
is an 8X Plextor PX-708A. I thought about replacing it with a 12X or
16X Plextor DVD writer, but 8X is fast enough. The system basically
works in batch mode anyway, so taking a couple extra minutes to burn a
DVD is no big deal.
Yet another winter storm is forecast, starting tomorrow morning. Right
now, they're not sure how much we'll get. It sounds like it could be
anything from a light dusting of snow with a bit of ice to a major ice
storm. Oh, well. Barbara is planning to make her usual grocery shopping
run this afternoon, but the stores may be a madhouse because of the
forecast. If so, she'll just come on home. We have plenty of food and
drink to tide us over.
3 February 2005
- Okay, okay. Everyone wants to know what book we're working on,
so I cleared it with O'Reilly. The title of the new book is Astronomy Hacks. (Subscriber Rich
Micko got it over on the messageboard. Good guess, Rich.)
The big rush is because we want the book to be in the stores by the
time the Deep Impact
mission concludes on 4 July. That means the book has to arrive in the
O'Reilly distribution warehouses by about 15 June, which in turn means
we have to be at 100% completion and ready to go to production by
When O'Reilly first mentioned a mid-April 100% completion date, I
clutched my chest and gasped. That was because I'd confused O'Reilly
"Hacks" books with O'Reilly "Hacking" books. The former are really
"tips and tricks" books, while the latter are project books that
involve actually building projects. The idea of having to build several
dozen projects, even if they were mostly small ones, and write the book in a couple
months was simply overwhelming. Once I twigged to the fact that "Hacks"
books involve a lot more writing and a lot less building, the mid-April
date was less overwhelming. Still intimidating, mind you, but at least
I didn't feel like Custer when he looked up and saw all those Indians.
- The mad dash continues. I'll be posting stuff as I complete it
on the Subscribers' Page,
so if you have any interest in astronomy check there.
It's to be a clear night tonight, if a bit cool, so Barbara and I will
probably try to get out for an observing session. I suppose I should
remain chained to my desk and writing, but a clear night with no moon
is hard to pass up. I'll justify it to myself by saying that I need to
shoot some images for the book anyway, so I might as well do it tonight.
Plextor 708a new firmware
Date: Wed, 2
Feb 2005 13:19:07 -0800
notice that Plextor has a new (Sept 04) firmware update that allows you
to read (but not write) dual layer +R DVDs? The link is here. Thought
you might be interested if you haven't gotten it already.
Thanks. I suppose it's a measure of how little impact dual-layer
writing has had that I wasn't even aware that the PX-708A didn't read
DL discs before. I haven't even tested dual-layer writing. At $10 or so
per blank disc, it's a bit too rich for my blood.
Saturday, 5 February 2005
- Oh, the irony. The incredible irony. Here's a screenshot of
the home page of the Mozilla Sunbird calendaring project, which just
made its first official release yesterday.
I think I'll wait until they get a few more bugs worked out...
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All