- Some discussion over on the messageboard about drunk driving.
I repeated the comment I've been making for years, which is that I
think drunk driving should be legal, but drunk wrecking severely
I say that not because I'm in favor of drunk driving, but because I
think my suggestion, if enforced, would be more effective at
eliminating it. As things stand, in most jurisdictions, one doesn't
risk much by driving drunk. Fines, increased insurance rates, and other
civil sanctions, certainly. But the possibility of jail time is pretty
small, and that's likely to happen only if one kills or seriously
Under my proposal, if you drive drunk and aren't involved in an
accident, nothing bad happens to you. But if you cause an accident, you
are in deep, deep trouble. Serious jail time trouble. Perhaps even
death penalty trouble.
One of the problems with the current law is that it is inequitable
because it uses blood alcohol level as presumptive evidence of drunk
driving. In North Carolina, as in most states, a 0.08% BAL is
presumptive evidence of drunk driving. In other words, if you blow a
0.08%, you're guilty of drunk driving, whether or not you're impaired
at that level. Contrary to common belief, in nearly all jurisdictions,
you're not necessarily off the hook if you blow a 0.07% or lower. The
presumptive level is just that: if you blow a 0.08% you're presumed
guilty, but you can still be convicted even if your BAL is lower,
perhaps much lower. But in practical terms it doesn't usually work that
way. If you blow a 0.07% or lower, you're generally acquitted, if
indeed you're even charged in the first place.
But people differ. I drink maybe one or two beers every year or two.
Even though I weigh 240 pounds, I can usually feel the effect of one
beer, and certainly the effect of two. I wouldn't even consider driving
after drinking two beers, because I know that I'm significantly
impaired, even though my BAL is low enough, perhaps 0.02%, that I'd be
considered legal in any US jurisdiction. But a serious drinker at a
much higher BAL would be much less impaired, if at all, at four times
Years ago, there was an interesting demonstration put on by MADD or
some similar organization. They got NASCAR Winston Cup race driver Kyle
Petty to volunteer. They set up a slalom course with traffic cones.
Petty started out cold sober, and ran the course in his race car as
fast as he could, trying not to knock over any cones. Then he started
drinking shots of bourbon and blowing into the Breathalyzer machine.
The whole idea was to demonstrate that even an immensely skilled driver
would become significantly impaired as his blood alcohol level climbed.
They expected his speed through the slalom to decrease, and that he'd
knock over more and more cones as he got drunker. Unfortunately, it
didn't work out that way. The drunker Petty got, the faster he made it
through the slalom, and the fewer cones he knocked over. He passed
0.10% and just kept getting better at running the slalom. Eventually,
they called it quits, not having gotten the results they were hoping to
My point isn't that drinking improves your driving skills, although
that was clearly true for Mr. Petty. My point is that BAL is a very
poor predictor of driving ability. In the days before the widespread
availability of Breathalyzer machines, cops did ad hoc tests that in fact were much
better evidence of impairment. Balancing on one foot with one's eyes
closed, extending one's arms and then bringing them in to touch one's
nose, that sort of thing. Obviously, those types of tests wouldn't
always be practical after a serious accident. But they could measure
BAL, reproduce it later once the suspect was fully recovered
physically, and then prosecute (or not) based on the results of those
I'm hard at work on the new book. As usual, I'll be posting draft
chapters on the subscribers' page. Speaking of which, thanks to all of
you who've subscribed or renewed recently. If you haven't yet
subscribed or if it's time to renew, see here.
- Our poor UPS guy delivered a whole bunch of boxes yesterday
evening, including a bunch from Antec. I have a Sonata II, a P180, and
a TX1088, along with various new Antec power supplies, including the
Phantom 500. I've requested an Overture II as well, but it hasn't
Obviously, I haven't had a chance to do anything with the new cases
yet, but they're very nice looking. Interestingly, the Sonata II
substitutes a 450W SmartPower unit for the TruePower 380 in the
original Sonata. The additional 70W of power is nice, as are TAC and
the other enhanced features in the Sonata II, but I'm wondering why
Antec chose to bundle one of their mid-range SmartPower units rather
than their premium TruePower. Probably a matter of keeping the Sonata
II at a reasonable retail price point, I suspect. Not that the
SmartPower units are bad by any means. They're solid mid-range units,
and the new models have the same 80,000 hour MTBF as the TruePower
units. The main difference is regulation, which is much tighter than
the spec requires on TruePower units--typically 3%--versus the 5% on
the SmartPower units.
But that's a minor nit. Overall, these new cases appear to build on the
foundation that Antec has established, with numerous upgrades for
cooler and quieter operation. In a technical sense, the most
interesting new Antec case is the P180, which isn't, as many people
might assume, an upgraded version of the P160. The P180 has a steel
chassis rather than aluminum, and uses the composite panels that Antec
introduced with the Aria, which sandwich a plastic sound-deadening
layer between two layers of thin metal.
I'm also looking forward to building a system around the Phantom 500
power supply. The original Phantom 350 was (and is) dead silent, since
it contains no fan. But the 350W output limited it to supporting slow
to mid-range systems, while the Phantom 500 should support the fastest
components available. I plan to build a fast, silent system with this
power supply, quiet drives, and a quiet/silent CPU cooler from Zalman
- I asked one of my contacts at Antec about their decision to
use a SmartPower power supply in the new Sonata II rather than the
TruePower power supply used in the original Sonata. She confirmed my
guess, that Antec wanted to price the Sonata II the same as the
original Sonata and because the Sonata II case itself costs more to
produce they substituted the less expensive SmartPower power supply.
She emphasized, though, that their new SmartPower 2.0 units are
significantly upgraded in terms of reliability and noise level, and
that they're quite pleased with the combination.
One interesting thing, though. If I'd had to guess, I'd have said that
the product design folks and engineers probably argued for continuing
to use the TruePower power supply and pricing the Sonata II higher than
the original Sonata, and the marketing folks argued for keeping the
same price and using the SmartPower unit. In fact, it was the converse.
The marketing folks really wanted to have the TruePower in the Sonata
II. It was the product development folks who argued the case for using
the SmartPower. What an interesting company Antec must be. It appears
that their engineers also think about marketing issues and their
marketers also think about engineering issues. That's as it should be,
of course, but it's almost unheard of.
And, speaking of power supplies, this from Chris Christensen:
Tue, 21 Jun 2005 10:38:58 -0500
Christensen, Chris (Aspen Research)
Robert Bruce Thompson
Bob: I know
we've gone around on this before, but in the absence of any data to the
contrary, SPCR's claim that "Our most powerful
P4-3.2 Gaming rig drew ~180W DC from the power supply under full load
-- well within the capabilities of any modern power supply." http://www.silentpcreview.com/article247-page1.html has to stand.
going to use Intel dual core chips, that ~180 watts should hold up
well, with an AMD processor using less. At any rate, the argument
is moot without any instumentation. Consider the usefulness of
having over-all power consumption data for systems: http://www.p3international.com/products/special/P4400/P4400-CE.html these cost about
I don't, as a
rule, shut my home computer off. If my system (monitor, computer,
printer) averages 200 watts power consumption, that's 1750 kilo watt
hours annually, or ~$125 at my current incremental power bill rate
($0.0723/KWH). If/when the petroleum situation explodes in our
face, we could easily see that bill rate do a 4x, or more.
That sounds about right, but it's not in conflict with what I said.
In the first place, most power supplies are rated at 25C, when their
actual operating temperature is 40C or even 50C. At those higher
temperatures, power supplies may deliver 50% or less of their rated
wattage. Many power supplies rated at 500W actually deliver less than
250W when they come up to temperature.
In the second place, power supplies are both inefficient and less
reliable when they're operating at a high percentage of their rated
output. A power supply that's delivering 50% to 70% of its rated output
delivers more stable voltage, runs cooler, and lasts longer than one
that's operating at 90% or more of capacity.
In the third place, their gaming rig isn't really a power hog. Driving
a fast Intel processor at full load can draw 130W or more, and a
high-end video card can easily draw another 90W or more. Add in current
consumption for memory, drives, etc. and you can easily exceed 250W DC
I do have testing equipment, by the way.
And some frustrations with the latest Xandros release:
Disappearing hard drive under Xandros (redux)
Date: Tue, 21
Jun 2005 17:31:13 -0600
Ronal B Morse USN (ret)
happening again. Xandros can't find the primary drive on IDE0
(otherwise known as HDA) approximately 3 out of every four boots.
On those occasions when it does find the drive it acts like it was
never missing. Except for that Xandros BE is running like a
HDA is a two year-old Seagate PATA120. It hosts XP on NTFS and a
FAT32 partition in addition to LILO in the boot sector.
I don't think
it's a hardware problem. I removed LILO and redid the boot sector
and the machine booted 10 consecutive times into XP (both warm and cold
boots) as expected without error. CHKDSK is clear.
The drive in
question is a two-year old Seagate PATA 120. It passes the IBM IDE
diagnostic and there are No SMART warnings. POST always detects
and properly configures the drive during IPL. The Knoppix live-CD
detects the drive every time.
Driving me a
bit nutz...I've even changed the data cable and the CMOS battery (you
do things you know can't possible help when you're pushed to the edge)
in addition to verifying the SMP protocol setting that appeared to fix
the issue before.
I've sent a
note to Xandros support, but will keep you posted...I have a feeling
it's a kernel issue.
I have a feeling you're right. I'm not at all convinced it was a good
idea to go to the 2.6.11 kernel. I'm not sure what that fixed compared
to 2.6.9, but I think it broke some stuff. In particular, the
SP2/kernel upgrade for X3 Standard/Deluxe/OCE has apparently caused a
lot of problems. The Xandros forums are full of posts about it.
I'm running X3 Deluxe with the SP2/kernel upgrade on my main system,
and I'm noticing some odd behavior. For example, Xandros File Manager
sometimes locks up when I do my regular backup of my working data to
another network volume. Also, K3b has turned a bit hinky, despite the
fact that I'm running the .24 release.
Barbara is running X3BE on her main system, and hasn't reported any
problems, but she doesn't hammer on things like we do. I've hesitated
to upgrade my main system to X3BE because I don't want to lose Mozilla
Suite just yet, and it's no longer available from XN. I could install
it from other sources, but I really don't want to do that.
As far as your own problem, have you used hdparm to check how the
interface and drive are configured?
- I see that SCO has
released OpenServer 6, the latest version of their flagship
software. (I almost typed "lastest version", which might turn out to be
true.) Their announcement was greeted by the collective yawns of the
trade press and industry analysts. No one cares about SCO any more,
except that a lot of people are looking forward to watching them crash
One has to wonder whether anyone will buy a copy. After all, this is a
company known for suing its own customers. I have to think that SCO
will sell new licenses only to committed SCO shops, and probably not
many of those at that. They might also sell some upgrade licenses to
current customers who desperately need whatever enhancements OS6
provides, although I suspect most of those users are migrating to Linux
just as fast as they can.
SCO has burned all its bridges. There's no going back, and no
going forward. They're toast.
- I'm cranking away on the new book. I'm using StarOffice rather
than MS Office, of course. SO has its peculiarities, but at least it
doesn't munge long, complex documents, which MS Office does with some
regularity. Unfortunately, O'Reilly still
doesn't have a template for SO, which means I have to do a lot of
manual formatting. O'Reilly does have a template for MS Word, but that
won't work with SO because it uses MS-specific macros and so on. Oh,
well. On balance, I'm happier using SO and knowing it won't eat my
O'Reilly has this to say:
O'Reilly books cover
the cutting edge
of software and technology, and have always championed the Open
Source movement. So it is no small irony that the majority of
O'Reilly manuscripts are authored using Microsoft Word. However,
given its ubiquity, in conjunction with it's status as de facto word
processor for most authors—inside or outside the tech publication
world—we are faced with a choice: convince authors to use other
tools, some of which may be highly complex, poorly documented or
technically unproven, or allow (even encourage) authors to use Word,
a tool with which they're already familiar, in the interest of
keeping them focused on writing, not learning a new word processor.
We've chosen the latter. Of course, we couldn't resist tinkering a
Regardless of the
tool being used to
author a manuscript, the actual task of turning the content into a
printed book falls on the publisher, transferring the semantic
structure of the manuscript into the format and standards of the
particular line of books.
In an ideal world,
you, the author,
would simply apply semantic markup to your manuscript, and we could
wave a magic wand and convert your marked-up text into a handsomely
bound edition with a funny looking animal on the cover. And, to a
certain degree, we can
(sort of) do that. But,
there's a problem. In order for the Magic Wand Approach to work, the
semantic markup must be comprehensive
tool for providing
comprehensive and unambiguous markup is, of course, XML (and in the
case of technical books, DocBook XML, to be specific). There's one
big obstacle to widespread adoption of XML as an authoring
comprehensive and unambiguous. Well, for human beings at least. The
process of applying XML markup to text, and then clearing up all the
ambiguity (by validating the XML), is just too much for all but the
On the other end of
the spectrum, there
are authoring tools, like Word, that favor formatting over structure.
If you want something emphasized, you highlight it, and press the
"Italic" button (or the "Bold" button for that
matter); if you need a bulleted list, press the "Bulleted List"
button, and voila! This is how 99%
of Word users format their documents.
But how do you
distinguish a bulleted
list that's in a sidebar, from a plain ol' bulleted list? That handy
button isn't very handy for that. Of course, Word does
provide some very nice support for semantic
structure (in the form of Styles).
It just favors
formatting over structure. It's pretty easy to highlight a line of a
paragraph, select a big point size from the Formatting Toolbar, than
click on the "Bold" button to make a heading. It's much
more sensible, however, to modify the "Heading 1" Paragraph
Style to suit your needs, then use that to format all of your
headings. That way, you get formatting and
structure, with no difference in the final look of the document.
Which really is ironic, given that SO enforces styles very strictly
compared to MS Word, so much so that many reviewers have panned OOo/SO
for its rigorous use of styles. Word formatting versus OOo/SO styles
reminds me of the old days when people were used to typewriters and
just getting started with word processing. A lot of them used the space
bar to make things line up instead of setting tabs in the document. If
Word formatting is the equivalent of the space bar, SO styles are
the equivalent of setting tab stops.
So, the irony is that O'Reilly isn't encouraging the use of a perfectly
good FOSS, style-oriented, cross-platform word processor that
looks and works pretty much
like Word, but is much superior for technical writing. I wish they'd do
something about that. Perhaps when OOo 2.0 ships they'll reconsider.
- O'Reilly is nothing if not responsive. Fourteen minutes after
I posted the comments above, I got this:
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: OpenOffice Template
Date: Thu, 23 Jun 2005 09:06:33 -0400
From: Brian Jepson
To: Robert Thompson
Here it is--they've asked me to not call this a template until it's got
all the same macro goodness in it as the Word template. But it should
be ideal for what we are doing--much better than using the Word
template. Here's what Keith Fahlgren had to say:
> Internally, the word "template" carries a lot of baggage. We do
> have an OOo "template." However, if your author is going to write
> OOo and understands how to use templates in it, they should use the
> attached document as a template. Using the attached is much better
> any other alternative and allows the author to use the Stylist on
> "Custom Styles" to use/view only the O'Reilly-approved styles (all
> the ones currently in the Word template). Please let me know if the
> author would like other tips on writing efficiently in OOo (or has
> to share with me).
> If they're no already familiar with how to use templates in
> provide some decent documentation here:
- Periodically, I check out the statistics on my web server,
including the most popular searches. I did that yesterday, and sent the
following message to my friend Mary Chervenak:
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: You're a popular search topic on my site
Date: Thu, 23 Jun 2005 17:14:48 -0400
From: Robert Bruce Thompson
To: Mary Chervenak
CC: Paul Jones, Barbara Fritchman Thompson
Month-to-date, searches for "Mary Chervenak" are in a tie for 19th
place, just behind "armed squirrel" and just ahead of "sock drawer".
Very strange. I'm not sure why the run on your name and the armed
squirrel thing. I know the sock drawer hits come from this
, where I wrote:
"Sock and underwear organization, indeed. Life is too short to organize
socks and underwear. For that reason, all of my socks are identical,
and I don't worry too much about organizing the drawer they live in.
When I get dressed, I just grab one white one and two gray ones. If
it's dark, I just grab one big one and two small ones. No need to worry
about matching socks. The gray socks go with all the shoes I normally
wear, which is to say tennis shoes and boots.
This is an actual unretouched photograph of my sock and underwear
drawer soon after I finished doing the laundry yesterday. Note the
clever organization. I keep a package or two of new underwear at the
upper right, where they can easily be swapped in for failing units. I
actually do have a few pairs of black dress socks, one of which is
visible at the lower left. But the important thing is that takes me
literally only seconds to reinstall my underwear and socks in the
drawer after I bring up the clean laundry.
Barbara asked me to point out that this disorganization scheme is
completely my idea, and she had nothing to do with it. But it doesn't
bother her, either. It would have bothered a girl I used to date not
long after college. I walked in one day to find her ironing my
underpants. With spray starch, yet. There must have been an appropriate
word, but my vocabulary failed me for once. "Are you deranged?", I
asked her. That relationship didn't last long. Starched underpants.
To which I received the following replies:
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: You're a popular search topic on my site
Date: Thu, 23 Jun 2005 18:20:23 -0400
From: Paul Jones
To: Robert Bruce Thompson
CC: Mary Chervenak, Barbara Fritchman Thompson
I think it is pretty clear that the standing on computer photo has
boosted sales. I'm sure if you paid Mary a 25" Obsession she'd
call it even.
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: You're a popular search topic on my site
Date: Fri, 24 Jun 2005 07:34:09 -0400
From: Mary Chervenak
To: Paul Jones, Robert Bruce Thompson
CC: Barbara Fritchman Thompson
I'm not sure whether to be flattered or annoyed. I really hate
On another subject entirely, I have an obsessively tidy sock
drawer. Actually, I have two sock drawers -- one for white and
light-colored socks and the other for black and navy blue socks.
All my socks are matched and folded together into pairs and the toes
all point the same direction in the drawer. I can send a photo,
if you wish.
I also have two other drawers reserved for tights (one for light and
one for dark), which, of course, are totally different from socks and
therefore merit their own drawer(s).
Hmmm. I clearly like socks much better than squirrels.
So that's it, then. We're waiting on the promised photos of Mary's sock
and underwear drawers. As to the 25"
Obsession, I'm afraid Mary's Obsession with her sock drawer will
have to do. Sorry, Paul.
- I'm working right now on the "Working on PCs" chapter for the
new book. It's based on the chapter from PC Hardware in a Nutshell, but
simplified and cut down, oriented more towards regular people who want
to upgrade or repair a PC than to PC technicians. Less text, more
So, my question is this: I'm writing the section on software
utilities for diagnosis, etc. So far, I have Knoppix, and I'll probably
write briefly about things like the migration utilities bundled with
hard drives. What other utilities should I mention? Which are your
favorites, at least the ones you consider indispensable? Post your
comments on the Daynotes
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All