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Week of 2 January 2006

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Monday, 2 January 2006
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09:10 - I didn't meet my 12/31 deadline for the first two chapters of the new astronomy book, but I'm still taking an administrative day today to clean up and organize. My to-do list runneth over with stuff that doesn't need to be done Right Now, but does need to be done sometime. Today's the day. I need to archive old mail, clear out the working data directories, pull backups of the holding and archive directories, install OpenOffice.org 2.0 on Barbara's system, and a bunch of other stuff.

10:40 - I just sent this to subscribers:

Tomorrow morning, when a hundred million corporate PCs boot up, the Windows WMF exploit is likely to become front-page news. This has the potential to be the worst one yet.

Microsoft has issued no patch, nor even a real workaround. You can't firewall the exploit. Short of disconnecting your systems from the Internet or replacing Windows with Linux, there's not much you can do, at least officially.

The folks at the Internet Storm Center have come up with an unofficial patch. Just as they never thought they'd be asking people to trust them, I never thought I'd recommend installing an unofficial operating system patch. But there it is. Microsoft has abdicated its responsibility to get a fix posted, even if it's not perfect. But something has to be done, with or without Microsoft's blessing. This looks like the best bet until Microsoft gets around to releasing an official patch.


I haven't installed this unofficial patch myself, because I don't have any Windows systems. If I did, I'd install this patch. For all I know, it'll break your Windows installation completely. But the folks at ISC are good people, who have proven themselves reliable over the years, and under these circumstances I don't see any alternative to trusting them.

The decision is yours. If it were my system, I'd install the patch.

Good luck.


Tuesday, 3 January 2006
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11:30 - I'm still working hard on the new astronomy book, so there won't be a lot posted here until I get the first two chapters complete.

Netflix continues to do strange things. Friday, 12/30, they emailed me to say they'd sent me Disc 4 of The Duchess of Duke Street, with an ETA of Saturday, 12/31. It didn't show up Saturday, and of course there was no mail service Sunday or yesterday. This morning, I got email from Netflix telling me that they'd received Discs 2 and 3 of The Duchess of Duke Street, which I'd sent back Friday. That was expected. What surprised me was that Netflix also acknowledged receiving Disc 4 back from me. That's very odd, since it never arrived here.


Wednesday, 4 January 2006
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09:30 - I'm still working on the object list for the new book. I have several hundred objects in a spreadsheet that need to be reconciled, verified, coordinates checked, and so on. Once that's done, they need to be segregated by constellation, have descriptions written, and charts generated. This book is going to be a lot of work. Still, it should be worth it in the end.


Thursday, 5 January 2006
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08:08 - Boy, is next-generation DVD going to fall flat on its face. I was just reading an article on C|Net that says Toshiba is going to introduce two HD-DVD players in March. The entry-level model sells for $499 and the better model for $799. Imagine that. For only ten times the price of a name-brand standard DVD player, you too can buy what may end up being a white elephant.

The article also mentioned that there will be 200 titles available in HD-DVD by the end of the year, which means there won't be a whole lot to watch even a year from now. Contrast that with the 50,000+ titles available from Netflix on standard DVD. And no one has said anything about the price of those HD-DVD discs.

For a successful HD-DVD introduction, the players need to be an order of magnitude less expensive and the number of titles available at introduction needs to be two orders of magnitude greater. Buyers are going to ignore these things in droves.

But the real kicker was in the last paragraph of the article:

"Kevin Collins, senior program manager told the audience of around 200 reporters that he was going to show them how phenomenal HD DVD viewing was. Unfortunately, he couldn't get the movie on Toshiba's HD DVD player to play after several attempts."

Blu-Ray has exactly the same problems. Expensive players, no guarantee of which format will win the format wars, and little content available. And both formats are crippled by intrusive, obnoxious DRM. I suspect standard DVD is going to be around for a long, long time.

15:53 -
I just sent the following message to my subscribers:

Microsoft announced today that it will release the official WMF patch at 2:00 p.m. PST. Until then, you can read about it here:



Friday, 6 January 2006
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09:50 - I'm in my usual state for the early stages of a book, wondering how this mess will ever turn into a book and how I can possibly get it done in time. This one is worse than usual because it's a different kind of book, but still I can see glimpses of what it's going to turn into. It's going to be the book that I wish Barbara and I had had when I re-entered the hobby of amateur astronomy five or six years ago after a long period away from it.

Interestingly, although the title isn't finalized yet, the subtitle is: "From Novice to Master Observer". And that's just what it will be. A field guide that someone who is just getting started can use for his first observations all the way through to qualifying for the coveted Astronomical League Master Observer certificate, which is currently held by only 41 people in the world. (Barbara and I aren't among them yet, but we hope to complete the requirements in 2006 or 2007.)


Saturday, 7 January 2006
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Sunday, 8 January 2006
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