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Week of 28 August 2006

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Monday, 28 August 2006
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08:52 - The next time anyone tells me how much easier it is to install Windows than Linux, I'll just laugh. I spent hours this weekend rebuilding the notebook computer that belongs to Jasmine, the daughter of one of our neighbors. What a godawful mess. I suppose it does me good to experience this once in a great while, just to remind me why I swore off using Microsoft software.

Jasmine just turned 13 and is starting 8th grade. That's stressful enough without changing the software she's used to using, or I would have blown away Windows XP and installed Xandros Linux for her. Actually, I ended up making her notebook dual-boot, and encouraging her to use Linux whenever possible. I also installed Firefox, Thunderbird, and OpenOffice.org for her, and will encourage her to use those instead of the Microsoft products.

What I may do is put a desktop computer running Xandros in her bedroom and encourage her to play with it until she gets comfortable working with Linux. Pournelle is forever saying that Linux isn't ready for Aunt Minnie. I think he's full of it. I think Windows isn't ready for Aunt Minnie.

11:55 - Jasmine's at school right now, and I'm in the process of re-reinstalling Windows XP Home for her. It occurs to me that she mentioned that she uses AOL mail and that her system originally had an AOL client on it. Does anyone know if AOL mail can be accessed by Thunderbird? I seem to remember that AOL mail used to be odd, and couldn't be read by a POP client. Also, Jasmine uses instant messaging. Which IM client should I install?


Tuesday, 29 August 2006
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09:22 - I returned Jasmine's notebook yesterday when she got home from school. I ended up just setting up Windows XP for her, with the student version of Office 2003. Xandros is also installed, but "hidden" from her for the time being. The last thing that kid needs at the moment is something new to learn.

I question the sanity of our school system officials. A 13-year-old girl shouldn't have to do what Jasmine is doing. She gets up at 5:00 a.m. to shower, dress, grab a quick bite, and head out to meet her school bus at 5:45. When she gets home from school, she immediately starts on her homework, which she works on straight through with only a short break for dinner until 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. most nights, and sometimes until midnight. Then it's to bed for a few hours sleep and the same thing all over again, five days a week. She also has gymnastics three evenings a week, which she isn't willing to give up. Her weekends aren't free, either. She has projects to do for school.

This just isn't right. School requirements are leaving her no time to be a kid. They're also leaving her no time to sleep. A 13-year-old girl needs at least nine hours of sleep a night. She gets five or six, seven if she's lucky. Jasmine was working on her science homework when I arrived yesterday. I tried to help her with it, but it was clear that she was dead on her feet. She wasn't tracking what I was saying. The kid was exhausted, as I would have been if I'd risen at 5:00 a.m., worked hard all day, and knew that I faced several more hours of hard work before I could sleep.

All of this is the predictable and predicted result of the No Child Left Behind Act. Schools are no longer interested in helping children to learn. They can't afford to be. The federal carrot and stick means that schools now teach children to score as high as possible on standardized tests, which is a very different thing from real learning. A school is supposed to be a log, with a teacher sitting on one end and a student on the other.

I've kind of taken on Jasmine as my "pay-forward" project. I intend to do what I can to help her, just as adults helped me when I was her age. I'm not sure yet exactly what I can do, but I intend to do whatever I can.

From:    Jan Swijsen <sjon@svenson.com>
To:      Robert Bruce Thompson <thompson@ttgnet.com>
Subject: daynote
Date:    Sun, 27 Aug 2006 22:06:05 -0800  (Mon, 02:06 EDT)

French expeditionary force is well equipped with white flags.

Nope they don't have them, but they did the next best thing, they painted all their equipment white.

Kind regards,
Sjon Svenson

That just won't be the same as the French troops waving their traditional battle flag, a pure white chicken on a pure white background.


Wednesday, 30 August 2006
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09:51 - My great-uncle made and lost several fortunes. He became a multi-millionaire by selling short just before the Great Stock Market Crash in 1929 (and, unfortunately, lost that, his final fortune, by investing heavily in the early years of passenger aviation). I'm beginning to wonder if I should follow his short-selling example.

Compared to Mozilla Mail, Evolution has very poor local spam filtering. I keep getting these spams touting stocks I've never heard of. Obviously, these spams are a pump-and-dump scheme. The spammers make their money by buying the stock or an option on it, using spam to tout the hell out of it, selling as the price peaks, and letting all the suckers take the bath. So, I wonder what would happen if I take a short position in the stock each time I receive one of these spams. Every time I get one of these spams, I could simply short 100,000 shares or whatever, and then cash in a couple days later. Unlike the spammers, I'd be doing nothing immoral or illegal.

When I mentioned to Barbara that Jasmine was too exhausted Monday afternoon to go to gymnastics practice, Barbara said that going to gymnastics might be the best thing for her. After a long, exhausting day, Barbara often goes to the gym, which she says re-energizes her.

Sure enough, the same thing happened with Jasmine. I was at Kim's house yesterday, looking at her computer. She said that Jasmine perked up as soon as they got to gymnastics practice, and started bouncing around like the Energizer Bunny. Jasmine even told Kim that she wanted to start volleyball, which requires attending practice every day after school. Kim told Jasmine that going to gymnastics practice three days a week and volleyball practice five days a week was simply too much.

When Jasmine got home from school yesterday, she was like a different kid. Monday afternoon, she looked completely wiped out. Yesterday afternoon, she was perky. But she's still not getting enough sleep.

Thanks to everyone who sent me advice by email or on the messageboard. I'm going to take that advice. The consensus seems to be that the best thing I could do to help Jasmine right now is to teach her some basic computer skills that she may not have already mastered. For example, like most kids, her idea of a web search is to type a word into Google. I'll teach her how to search properly, how to narrow searches, how to evaluate the reliability of web sources, the best sources to use, and so on.

I'll also teach her how to use her word processor properly. Not just the mechanics of it, but using it as a content creation tool. Right now, when Jasmine needs to write something, she writes it out longhand and then types it into the word processor. I'll teach her how to use the word processor to capture ideas, outline, reorganize, revise, and so on.

I also intend to teach Jasmine how to think, which apparently schools no longer teach. She needs to understand the basics of deductive logic and inductive logic, categorical syllogisms, and basic logic errors such as post hoc ergo propter hoc. I can't believe that our schools aren't teaching students these fundamental tools. I was taught basic logic in elementary school, and symbolic logic in junior high school.


Thursday, 31 August 2006
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08:25 - SJVN posted an interesting article yesterday, Results from the 2006 Desktop Linux Survey - Part 1. In the article, he sings the praises of Frindows, and predicts it will soon challenge the dominance of Ubuntu. I'm not so sure.

I thought Jasmine needed a Linux desktop system, so I decided to give her my current den system. I blew away the contents of the hard drive, installed Xandros 4 on it, and got things set up for her. I then pulled it out from under my end table and took it into the kitchen to clean it up, suck out the dust dinosaurs, and so on. That meant I needed a replacement system for the den, so I moved the mainstream system we'd built for the book into the den. That system is a BTX box with a fast Pentium D processor, 2 GB of RAM, and two SATA hard drives.

While I was doing all that, I had Bittorrent downloading the Frindows ISO. I burned the ISO to a CD, stuck it in the drive of my new den system, and fired it up. I got a boot menu and told the system to go ahead and install. The Frindows splash screen appeared, with a progress bar. The progress bar got to about 25% complete and hung. I let it sit there for half an hour or so, but it never moved again.

I thought perhaps the CD itself was bad, so I burned and verified another copy of the ISO, after checking the MD5 sum. The second CD was perfect, but the same thing happened when I tried to install it. The progress bar got to about 25% and then hung. I wasn't impressed by Frindows.

So I popped in the Ubuntu 6.06 LTS CD and fired it up. There had been some discussion recently about the relative times required to install Windows XP and Ubuntu, so I decided to time it this go round. The initial Ubuntu install took about 10 minutes. I say "about" because we were having thunderstorms last night, and just after I started the install Barbara announced that we had a gap in the storms and it was time to walk the dogs. We were gone only a few minutes, but when we got back the install had completed.

The next step was to update Ubuntu to current. I clicked on the update link and found that there were about 170 updates available, totaling just under 200 MB. Downloading those updates took six minutes, with another 12 minutes required to install them, for a total of 18 minutes, with only one reboot required after the whole process completed. None of it required any action from me, other than starting the process and entering my password. The equivalent procedures for updating Windows XP took between three and four hours, with (I'm guessing) 15 reboots. And with Windows XP, I had to sit there the entire time because the process unpredictably required input from me.

In terms of time and effort involved to install and update the OS, Windows XP and Linux aren't even close. Linux is far, far easier and quicker.

13:55 - Thanks to Greg Lincoln, who just upgrade the software running the Daynotes forums to the latest version. This is part of our effort to fight back against the forum spammers who are making my life miserable. There were a few early glitches during the upgrade, but Greg has fixed most of them. If you notice any problems, please post in the forums or via PM to let us know about them.

I just set up a LInux box for Jasmine. Here's what's weird. She gets her email via webmail on AOL. I rebuilt her notebook, which is running Windows XP, and installed Firefox for her. She's able to get her email on it without any problems. But on the desktop system running Xandros 4, also with Firefox, when I attempt to log in to AOL's webmail page, it displays a message saying that cookies and javascript must be enabled. They *are* enabled, so apparently there's something about Firefox running on Linux that AOL doesn't like. Any suggestions would be appreciated.


Friday, 1 September 2006
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07:55 - It's raining here, but we've had only a couple inches in the last two days. We're on the far western edge of the expected heavy rains from Hurricane Ernestine, so I suspect we'll get at most some moderately heavy rains and a bit of wind from the storm.

Barbara has had a very difficult last couple of weeks at work, and is looking forward to the holiday weekend. Neither of us plans to do any work. We'll lie around and read or watch some DVDs and chat with some friends who are visiting. I could use a few days of down time as well.

Our editor at O'Reilly emailed me last night to say that the last of the book has been handed over to production, so it's out of our hands until we get the galley proofs. The holiday weekend seems a good opportunity for both of us to take a break.


Saturday, 2 September 2006
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Sunday, 3 September 2006
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