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Week of 29 May 2006

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Monday, 29 May 2006
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00:00 - Vacation.


Tuesday, 30 May 2006
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00:00 - Vacation.


Wednesday, 31 May 2006
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20:44 - We're back from our visit to Brian and Marcia Bilbrey in Bowie, Maryland. As always, Brian and Marcia were the best hosts imaginable. We had a wonderful time. I didn't even think about doing any work.

We did play around a bit with Xandros Server, which I took along because I wanted an expert opinion. I won't presume to speak for Brian, but the impression I got was that Xandros Server would be quite useful for someone who is not a Linux guru but who must administer a small business network. Xandros Server looks to me, at least upon brief examination, as a reasonable alternative to Microsoft Small Business Server. Everything we thought about checking can be administered from a well-designed GUI.

If all you need is a simple file and print server, Xandros Server is probably overkill. But if you need Microsoft SBS functionality, Xandros Server is well worth looking at.


Thursday, 1 June 2006
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08:53 - One thing I really, really don't like about Xandros Server is that it uses a product activation scheme similar to the one used by Windows. Although Xandros Server loads and runs without being activated, activation is required to perform functions as basic as updating the software. Also, as Brian pointed out, there is some pretty strong audit language in the license agreement. All of this is much too Microsoft-like for my tastes, although, as Brian also pointed out, this is a business-oriented product, and Xandros certainly wants to make sure it's paid for servers running in a business environment.

I'll be keeping a close eye on Xandros 4 Desktop, which is likely to ship in July or August. If Xandros 4 Desktop requires product activation, I'll be migrating all of our desktops to Ubuntu/Kubuntu or SuSE 10.1 and taking Xandros off my recommended list.

Speaking of Ubuntu, a strange thing happened when we returned home and I reconnected my main office desktop system. The network shares that I had mapped to my home directory no longer worked. For example, I have the directory //adelie/archive on Barbara's main system mapped to /home/thompson/archive in the home directory of my main system. That mapping no longer worked.

I'd run into this problem several weeks ago. With Brian's help, I was able to resolve it, as documented on my journal page for April 19, by defining those mappings in my fstab file. That worked perfectly until I disconnected my main system and hauled it up to Maryland over the holiday. When I reconnected it to our home network and restarted it, it no longer mounted the network shares to my local home directory.

My first though was that somehow fstab had been rewritten to eliminate those mounts, but fstab was unchanged. I talked to Brian last night. He had me try several things, none of which helped. Finally, we concluded that something had changed and that it must be a timing issue. We'd made only two real changes to my system while we up there. First, we'd edited the hdparm configuration file to automatically enable 32-bit mode and DMA mode for the DVD burner on /dev/hda. It's not likely that that would cause the problem, but that was the only manual change we'd made. We'd also installed a WiFi adapter, although there's no driver loading for it. Perhaps at boot time the system takes too long looking at the WiFi adapter and that delay causes the problem with automounting of the smb shares.

Of course, as Brian said, it's a bit odd that I'm using SMB rather than NFS on what is, after all, a Linux network.

I see that the Swedish National Criminal Police, no doubt at the behest of the MPAA and RIAA, have shut down Pirate Bay, arresting two of the principals and confiscating their servers. This raid was mounted despite the fact that Pirate Bay had committed no crime under Swedish law, which correctly recognizes that posting a link to a torrent tracker does not constitute copyright infringement. I expect Pirate Bay to be up and running again shortly.

Our upcoming shoot of some video segments to supplement the new edition of Building the Perfect PC has reminded me that I need to learn something about video. I'm confused about all of the standards, particularly with respect to HD video. I know there are various resolution standards such as 720p and 1080i. I understand what those mean, but not how they relate to current and future HD TV sets and video cameras. I see consumer and "prosumer" camcorders that range in price from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, and I'm not sure what paying more buys you. I see camcorders that record to various types of tapes, miniature DVD recordable discs, hard drives, and various types of memory cards, including some I've never heard of.

I'd like to learn at least the basics about video recording, but I'm not sure where to start. Is there a good book or web site that covers this stuff? If so, please tell me about it over on the message board.


Friday, 2 June 2006
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08:42 - I blew away the SuSE 10.1 installation on my den system last night and replaced it with Ubuntu 6.06. SuSE 10.1 is a very nice distro in many respects, but it strikes me as not quite ready for prime time. As many news reports have stated, the update functionality is seriously borked, but there are many other minor annoyances that make SuSE less than optimal for me.

Ubuntu 6.06 is the first "LTS" release from Ubuntu, which means it's going to have Long Term Support. The October 6.10 release, Edgy Eft, will be bleeding edge, whereas 6.06 emphasizes stability. I still don't much like Gnome, but I had some problems with Kubuntu 5.10 (the KDE version). It may be that those problems are fixed in Kubuntu 6.06. I also downloaded it, but I'll play with it a bit before I decide whether or not to use it on my main systems. Of course, Xandros 4 is due to be released in July or August, so it's possible I'll return to Xandros when version 4 ships. Assuming it doesn't require product activation, of course.

This from Bo Leuf on the PirateBay raid:

From:     Bo Leuf
To:       The Daynotes backchannel mailing list
Subject:  [Daynotes] the Swedish Pirate Bay clean out
Date:     Fri, 02 Jun 2006 00:03:15 +0200  (Thu, 18:03 EDT)

There have been some fragmented international news reports about this, so I thought to send around a more detailed report as seen from the local perspective. What is reported as "busting the largest piracy site in the world" is in fact something rather different.

Here are some pictures that give a visual perspective of what happens when 'MPAA-hired' Swedish police decide to seize "a server or two" from a secure room in a commercial data center:

Apparently, the dc staff weren't even allowed to read the warrant; it was only flashed sort of like police badges are flashed in movies. The police basically stripped an entire section of the dc that was rented out to one of several webhotel providers at the dc.

It's been a media uproar, because at least 200 unrelated companies that happened to have hosting at the same provider also had their machines carted away; no information, no rights, no compensation for lost income, business files, or anything.

Media industry 'copyright' and 'antipiracy' efforts run amok. Be warned, these efforts are threatening the livelihood and freedoms of ordinary people far more than any suspected copyright 'pirates'. It's starting to look like mafia rule.

I wrote "MPAA-hired" because later reports have indicated that the US media industry lobbyists went through the US administration up to the White House, which then leaned on the Swedish govt. The minister of justice then instigated what by much evidence after the fact appears to be an illegal seizure of servers and material mostly from totally unrelated companies and individuals.

Oh, the supposed target site was a bittorrent tracker, although police clearly had been told that the servers stored incredible volumes of copies of protected films and music. Early media reports swallowed that bait readily, but the story fell apart rather quickly.

Probably best to keep any responses off list. This posting is meant to be informative, and not to start an OT thread.

/ Bo


Saturday, 3 June 2006
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08:50 - I was thinking the other day that I'd like to re-watch James Burke's The Day the Universe Changed. I saw it when it aired originally, on PBS I think, but that's been at least 20 years.

So I went over to Netflix, intending to add it to my queue. It wasn't listed on Netflix. So I looked on Amazon, where it wasn't listed for sale. It was beginning to look as though that series had never been released on DVD, which seemed odd. So I did a Google search, and found a company that sells the series on DVD. I won't link to them, for reasons that will become obvious.

The first link I clicked on listed a price of $79.95. That seemed about twice what was reasonable for a 1979-vintage 10-episode series, which should fit on four or at most five DVDs. As I read further, though, I was flabbergasted to find that $79.95 was the price for one disc, and that this company includes only one episode per disc. If I wanted the entire 10-episode series, I could buy it bundled for a mere $749.95. Talk about a rip-off of historical proportions.

To make matters worse, these sweethearts market these discs to schools. Isn't it nice to know that there are companies targeting our schools with products that are overpriced by more than an order of magnitude? Now, I'm sure that this company would argue that because these discs are licensed for public exhibition they are entitled to charge more.

But, the last time I looked, using videos for educational purposes fell under the Fair Use provisions of copyright law. A $40 set licensed for home use would be appropriate for schools. Indeed, at that price, every junior high school and high school library should own a copy of The Day the Universe Changed. At $40, I might buy the set, and Netflix would certainly have it available for rental. But there is no such set. As far as I can determine, this series exists only as a $749.95 set licensed for public exhibition. It's abuses like this that give copyright a bad name.


Sunday, 4 June 2006
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00:00 -


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