- I'll be busy this week. I have an article to write for Make magazine as well as reviewing
copyedits on the new book.
It's time to buy another digital camera. Barbara likes the little
Concord 5345Z point-and-shoot, but she still takes her Pentax SLR film
cameras along on trips because she wants the interchangeable lenses and
other features of an SLR. So I decided it was time to buy her a digital
SLR as an early birthday present. I looked at the models from Canon,
Nikon, and others, but I think I've settled on the Pentax
*ist DL, which Pentax describes as an entry-level DSLR. It appears
to be relatively easy to operate, at least for a full-featured DSLR,
and it has a couple other advantages, such as using standard AA
alkaline or NiMH batteries and accepting her current K-mount lenses.
The manual describes K-mount lenses as having limited functionality,
but I'm not entirely sure in what respects they're limited. Obviously,
they can't autofocus, but that's not a problem. If they operate
normally as manual-focus lenses in aperture-priority mode, that's all I
care about. She could at least use her existing Pentax 50mm macro,
70mm to 150mm zoom, and 400mm telephoto, although they'd function as
the equivalent of a 75mm macro, 105mm to 225mm zoom, and 600mm
telephoto, respectively. The camera is available in a bundle with an
18mm to 55mm zoom, which is the equivalent in 35mm terms of a 27mm to
83mm zoom, and that should suffice for the bulk of her shooting.
I'm thinking about ordering the camera from these
folks, who have a good price on it and have a pretty respectable
rating on resellerratings.com. I'll probably also order her a 1 GB SD
card or two and a few other accessories. Advice appreciated.
- Okay, it's ordered. Ordering was harder than it should have
been. I first tried ordering the camera on the web site. I filled out
the form with my name and other information, the credit card number,
and so on, and clicked "Submit". The buydig.com web server went into a
catatonic trance. After about ten minutes, my browser finally returned
a time-out message. Not knowing if the order had been accepted or not,
I called their toll-free customer service number, where I spent half an
hour on hold. The woman I spoke to couldn't find the order, and
suggested I call and place the order the old-fashioned way. I did that,
and didn't realize until after the salesman, who was in the hurry you
expect from a New York camera store (actually, New Jersey in this case)
had hung up that he hadn't asked for my email address or given me a
confirmation number. Oh, well. It should be here later this week. I
just hope I don't get two of them.
- If you want to understand the Massachusetts OpenDocument
Format decision, go read this
article. It's quite long, but it covers everything anyone needs to
know about the Massachusetts ODF decision and Microsoft's frenzied
attempts to overturn it.
ODF is Microsoft's worst nightmare. It strikes at the heart of the
Microsoft monopoly on office software, which itself is the keystone
upon which Microsoft's monopoly on desktop operating systems depends.
Linux terrifies Microsoft, but ODF is orders of magnitude more
threatening. Microsoft is pulling out all the stops to prevent this
genie from escaping the bottle. Unfortunately for Microsoft, the genie
is already on the loose. Even if Microsoft can succeed in stomping out
the Massachusetts initiative, which is unlikely to happen, ODF is in
the wild and its growth is exponential.
- The start of a new month, and only two months left in 2005. By
the end of the year, I want to have made substantial progress on the
two books I'm working on now, so there's much work to be done.
On the Netflix front, I received 19 discs during the month of October.
By my estimate, Netflix engaged in moderate throttling. Had they turned
around discs as quickly as possible, I would have received 25 or 26
discs. Still, 19 discs for $19 plus tax is pretty good. And, in
actuality, I received more than 19 discs. One of the discs they sent me
was cracked, and two were unplayable. If you count those, Netflix
actually sent me 22 discs last month.
The Antec Aria system is back in the den. Barbara is quite happy that
we have a computer there again. We've gotten used to having it there
everything from checking weather forecasts to looking up things on IMDB
while we're watching a movie.
That system is back to running Xandros Linux, which it had run for
nearly a year with no problems. While I was using it temporarily as ripper, running Windows XP, it had
nothing but problems. Every time I started the system, it'd pop up a
warning dialog to tell me that Windows had experienced a serious error.
This despite several re-installs and replacing the hard drive, which
turned out to be unnecessary. Periodically, it would also blue screen
at boot, displaying a string of garbage. With Xandros Linux installed
on it again, it works perfectly normally.
While I was re-installing the system in the den, I also swapped out the
keyboard and mouse. I had been using a standard wired Microsoft
keyboard and a Logitech cordless mouse. I replaced those with a
Microsoft Wireless Desktop, which is very nice.
Despite my usual advice, I'm running this system with the side and top
panels off. With the panels on, the system runs very hot because it
sits between the side of a love seat and the side of a corner table,
which block the ventilation holes in the side panels. With the panels
off, ventilation is no problem. The system actually runs a lot quieter
with the panels off because the CPU fan runs at about a third the speed
it does when the panels are on. The downside is that the top of the
system is completely open and I generally have a liter of Coke in a
large cup sitting on the very corner of the table, directly over the
system. If that cup ever gets knocked over, it isn't going to be pretty.
Yet another reason to Just Say No to DRM. Mark
Russinovich of SysInternals reports that Sony
DRM installs a rootkit. I've never trusted closed-source
software, and this is just another example of why it's foolish to do so.
About 25 years ago, I worked for a software company that provided
billing and accounting software to law firms. That software included a
"time bomb" that caused the software to stop working every few months
unless an update was installed. When the software stopped working, the
data was inaccessible until a patch was installed to re-enable the
That time bomb was never mentioned to firms who bought the software.
Although I never gave away the secret, I thought having the hidden
time bomb was a sleazy and dishonest business practice, and I made that
clear to the owner of the company. The company later experienced severe
financial problems and eventually disappeared, presumably taking a lot
of law firms' data with it. I've never forgotten that, and for that
reason I've never trusted closed-source software.
- More on Sony's rootkit from The Register, Removing Sony's CD 'rootkit' kills Windows.
"Essential System Tools", indeed. I really do wonder how much longer
sane people will continue to use Windows, not to mention buying
It's easy to forget that until very recently copyright infringement was
a civil matter. Thanks to Clinton, it's now a criminal matter. We need
to repeal all of these ill-considered laws, beginning with the Digital
Millennium Copyright Act, and return to sanity. It would also be nice
if Congress passed a law that explicitly defined all forms of
non-commercial copyright infringement as Fair Use.
Wednesday, 2 November
- Better buy that DVD recorder while you still can. The copyright
pigs are at it again. This time, they're asking their
bought-and-paid-for congressmen to pass a new law to block the
so-called analog hole. If this legislation is enacted, say
good-bye to DVD recorders, video capture cards, and any other device or
technology that can capture an analog stream and record it to a digital
device. From the article:
video which has been branded as "do not copy", will
last for only ninety minutes only in the digital world - and will be
literally frame by frame, megabyte by megabyte, from your PC, without
control. You'll watch a two hour film, and as you watch the final half
the first few scenes will be being dissolved away by statute."
One of my readers suggested something I hadn't thought about
doing. Instead of having the Antec Aria case sitting on the floor, I'm
considering getting rid of the case entirely and just mounting the
components to the underside of the corner table.
There's not much, really. Just the motherboard, power supply, hard
drive, and optical drive. I haven't thought it through, but I'm think
about mounting the motherboard directly to the bottom of the table
surface, facing down. I could do the same with the power supply
and hard drive, and mount two or three 120mm case fans blowing directly
over them to cool them. For the optical drive, I could come up with a
spare detachable drive bay from an old case and use it to mount the
optical drive flush with the bottom of the tabletop, where it would be
accessible. While I'm at it, I may replace the 17" CRT with a 17" LCD
Oops. When I mentioned this idea to Barbara last night, she was not
amused. She suggested instead moving the system to the top of the end
table. I may do that.
Thursday, 3 November
- FedEx showed up yesterday with the Pentax
*ist DL digital SLR camera. I'm very impressed. It looks and works
pretty much like a 35mm SLR. Barbara is very happy with it. I pulled
the 256 MB SD memory card from our little Concord 5345Z point-and-shoot
camera because I haven't ordered any memory cards or other accessories
for the Pentax yet. I popped in four freshly charged NiMH AA batteries
and shot a few test images.
Oddly, the camera soon displayed a "Battery Depleted" message. I think
I need to order some new high-capacity NiMH batteries. These Lenmar
batteries I ordered some months ago from NewEgg seem to be of pretty
low quality. Brand suggestions appreciated, both for batteries and SD
memory cards. I'm not sure how fast this KingMax SD card is, but I
think I want a fast card to minimize the time required to write an
image to the card. I see that SD cards are available in speeds up to
133X and 150X. Do I need something that fast, or would the 50X or
60X models suffice? I figure I'll buy Barbara one or two 512 MB or 1 GB
cards and have done with it.
I haven't had a chance to see how Barbara's existing K-mount lenses
work with the new camera. I'm particularly interested in using the
Pentax 50mm macro, which will be useful for shooting book images, and
Barbara is interested mainly in how/whether her 400mm telephoto will
work. This is all going to be fun to play with.
- If Abraham Lincoln were writing the Gettysburg Address today,
he might have to change the closing line a bit
that government of the corporations by the corporations for the
corporations, shall not perish from the earth.
Perhaps I've simply reached the limits of what I can take, but this
week has been particularly depressing. Google has started scanning
copyrighted texts, running roughshod over copyright law for its own
commercial benefit. Sony's DRM rootkit made the news. Microsoft appears
to have bought enough politicians in Massachusetts to put the future of
the OpenDocument initiative in serious doubt. It seems as though large
corporations can do pretty much as they please, as long as they're
willing to buy enough politicians.
Which makes me wonder why we, as Americans, put up with the gross
corruption that permeates Congress and our state and local legislative
bodies. Since when has it been acceptable for corporations to bribe our
representatives? Representatives are, after all, supposed to be
representing us. Not Sony,
not Google, and not Microsoft. And yet, essentially all of our
representatives and senators are bought and paid for, beholden to the
corporations that pay them bribes.
It seems to me that the solution is pretty clear. Individuals should be
able to contribute money to politicians; corporations, labor unions,
industry consortia, and other organizations should not, whether
directly or indirectly via PACs and so on. Furthermore, individual
contributions should be limited in scope. If I want to contribute money
to a candidate who is running for the US Senate from North Carolina, or
to a candidate running for the US House of Representatives in the 5th
North Carolina Congressional District, that's fine. They're my representatives. But why should
I be permitted to contribute money to a candidate from another state or
Congressional District? They don't represent me, and any money I sent
to them represents a bribe, pure and simple.
If Bill Gates, as an individual, decides to contribute a billion
dollars to each of his senators and his one representative, he is
within his rights. Let him buy 1/50th of the Senate and 1/435th of the
Representatives. The other 49/50ths and 434/435ths limit the potential
influence Mr. Gates can wield, even if he also buys 100% of the
President of the US.
For corporations and other organizations, the matter is even clearer.
These entities are not people, and are not entitled to representation.
I know that to be a fact, because I've read the Constitution. Any
campaign donations or in-kind contributions made other than by
individuals are naked bribes, as are sweetheart employment deals
whereby a departing congressman steps into a highly paid job with a
corporation that he has faithfully represented. Those who pay such
bribes and those who accept them should be sentenced to life in
prison, if not death, for subverting and corrupting the political
- Getting old is hell.
When I was in high school, my vision was 20/10. I don't know what it is
now, but I have to wear glasses to work comfortably at the computer.
I happened across an article that was talking about how alcohol and
fatigue affect reaction time, which made me wonder how much I've slowed
down. In a high-school science class, we tested everyone's reaction
time, doing 20 passes each with penalties for hitting the button too
soon. The class average reaction time was 0.44 seconds, with a
reasonably large standard deviation. My average was 0.09 seconds, with
a small standard deviation.
Now, I know I'm still pretty fast. If I open a cupboard door, for
example, and something falls out, I generally catch it before it's
dropped more than six inches. But I was curious about my actual
reaction time, so I went off in search of web-based reaction-time
testers. Most of them used five or ten passes, but I ran a total of 20
passes each. All of them agreed pretty closely. My average reaction
time, at age 52, has increased to about 0.18 seconds.
Getting old is hell.
Saturday, 5 November
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All