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Week of 29 January 2007

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Monday, 29 January 2007
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08:17 - Yet another nasty surprise from Microsoft. Ars Technica reports that Vista upgrade discs can't be used to do fresh installations. With Windows XP and prior versions, one could install the OS from an upgrade disc to a blank hard drive by providing a CD from a qualifying earlier version of Windows. No more. Now, a Vista upgrade disc will install to a system only if the earlier qualifying version is already installed on the hard drive.

Previously, if the hard drive failed, you could install a new hard drive, fire up Windows setup, and insert the CD for the earlier qualifying version of Windows when prompted by Setup. Now, you'll have to install the new hard drive, do a full install of Windows XP, and then do a Vista upgrade installation. I'm sure this new policy will delight IT departments everywhere.

The hits just keep on coming. I'm very happy that I bit the bullet in mid-2004 and made a complete transition to Linux. Linux keeps getting better and better. Windows keeps getting worse and worse.


Tuesday, 30 January 2007
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08:43 - As many people predicted, the Vista roll-out has been a complete flop. Microsoft went all out trying to reproduce the excitement of the Windows 95 roll-out, including convincing stores to remain open for the midnight release. They threw a big party, but almost no one showed up. As far as I can determine, the biggest turnout in North Carolina was at a CompUSA in Raleigh, where about a dozen people showed up. One of them reportedly bought a new notebook computer with Vista installed, but most of them were probably homeless people there for the free coffee and doughnuts.

Meanwhile, presumably to boost Vista numbers, Microsoft has announced a new pogrom program to get tough on SMBs who use Windows. Microsoft has apparently enlisted the aid of the BSA to audit SMBs, although I'm not sure why the Boy Scouts of America would want to help Microsoft.

Every time I read an article like this, I wonder why businesses continue to use Microsoft software. Even a business that makes every effort to comply with Microsoft's licensing requirements is likely to be found guilty by the BSA goons. Here, for example, from BSAdefense.com, is a list of items that are NOT considered valid proof of licensing:

Copies of Checks to Software Vendors
Dated Purchase Orders
Undated Software Licenses
Credit Card Statements Evidencing Software Purchases
Certificates of Authenticity
Media, Manuals, or Key-Codes
Invoices Bearing an Entity Name Other than the Entity Named in the BSA's Initial Letter

That last requires a bit of explanation. Say that I have a small company, Bob's Widgets, that has 100 properly licensed Windows PCs and servers. I'm bought out by Acme Widgets, and become a subsidiary. If BSA shows up and audits me, I'm 100% out of compliance, because all of the software on those 100 PCs and servers is licensed to Bob's Widgets whereas now I'm legally part of Acme Widgets. I have to re-buy the software for all 100 systems, paying full retail price. I also have to pay legal costs and probably some sort of punitive fines.

But it gets worse. Let's say that Bob's Widgets is a sole proprietorship and I decide to incorporate. Instead of Bob's Widgets, I'm now Bob's Widgets, Inc. If the BSA shows up--you guessed it--I'm now 100% out of compliance because of the name change. Technically, those 100 systems now have a new owner, and none of the software licenses, whether OEM licenses or volume licenses, carry over to the new owner. None of this, incidentally, is just theory. It actually happens, as anyone who's gone through a corporate buyout and subsequently had a visit from the BSA fairies can tell you.

Ernie Ball got it right. In 2000, when Microsoft's BSA goons raided Ernie Ball, they found minor license compliance problems. (Things like an old PC being passed down from an engineer to a secretary without removing software that the secretary never used.) Microsoft made an object lesson of Ernie Ball, levying heavy fines and publicly embarrassing the company. Ernie Ball didn't take that lying down. They made it a crash priority to migrate to Linux and OSS applications within six months. And that should be an object lesson to any other small business that runs Microsoft software.

If I were the CEO or CIO of a small or medium business, I'd make it a crash priority to migrate away from Microsoft software as soon as possible. Otherwise, one day the BSA goons may show up at my door in the company of armed federal marshals. "Nice little business you have here. Be a shame if something happened to it."


Wednesday, 31 January 2007
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08:24 - We have winter weather forecast for tomorrow. Right now, they're saying an inch or two of snow and some freezing rain, but around here you never know. I remember that time twenty years ago when all the forecasters were agreed that we'd get up to an inch of snow but more probably a light dusting. We ended up getting an 18" dusting.

Freezing rain is always cause for concern, because it doesn't take much to take down trees and power lines. Barbara and I bought a generator and had our natural gas logs installed after a freezing rain storm ten years or so ago that left us without power for about four days. I hope we don't need them this time, but they're there if we do.

Rats! Barbara and I just watched the last disc of Season 2 of Veronica Mars. Now we have to wait until Season 3 is out on DVD to see more of Veronica. And hope they decide to do a Season 4.

Charlie Demerjian on Vista: Vista makes me sad: Five years for a chrome-plated turd

"If this is all the billions, man-hours and years brought, what was the point? We get a bloated, DRM infected rights removal tool that advances the state of the art to where Apple was the better part of a decade ago, and we are supposed to call this progress? Puh-leeze.

MS is in a rut. The firm has cowered, co-opted or bought all the critics, and any message coming out of the press will be well scripted. Possibly the last big OS ever made is going to be a chrome plated turd, no one has the guts to say it, everyone will pretend it is great because everyone pretends it is great."

Well, not everyone.

13:29 - What a superb idea. From Groklaw: Free Linux Driver Development - the Kernel Guys Make Companies an Offer. I'm sure many companies will pass on this offer, but many are likely to accept it. It's pretty hard to turn down an offer to do expensive development work for free, work that will result in your product having complete support on Linux with almost no effort or expense on your part. There's no doubt, despite the NDA offer, that some companies will not participate because they don't want drivers available for their products that allow anyone to examine the source code. They'll have to weigh the perceived competitive advantage of keeping their drivers closed versus the competitive advantage of having their products supported by Linux. I suspect a great many of them will opt for the latter.


Thursday, 1 February 2007
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09:34 - It hadn't started snowing the first time I looked out the window at 7:00 this morning, but by the time Barbara left for work at 8:00 there was a light dusting of snow on the ground. It's supposed to get nastier as the day goes on, with sleet and freezing rain starting this afternoon and falling through the rest of the day and overnight. It's to be warm enough tomorrow that it probably won't stick around for long.

I posted a message on the Sciencemadness discussion board to solicit images of other people's home chem labs for the book. I expected a healthy dose of skepticism, and I wasn't disappointed. Many of the users of those forums are a bit paranoid, and rightly so. They don't know me, and they have no reason to believe that I'm not some government agent trying to lure them into revealing themselves.

I don't blame them one bit. With the DHS looking for terrorists and the DEA looking for meth labs and the CPSC looking for illegal fireworks makers, most of these folks think that keeping a low profile is the only sensible way to pursue their hobby. And that's a real shame, because what these folks are doing is important.

Most of our current crop of scientists started out as teenagers playing with chemicals in home labs. If the government wants to ensure that we have no new generations of scientists, I can think of no better way to accomplish that than to persecute people who are minding their own business in their own home labs.

Perhaps I'm biased, but I think chemistry is by far the most important of the sciences. Without chemists, our planet would be populated by a few million humans, living in mud huts, scratching out a bare living on the edge of starvation, and lucky to survive to the age of 18 or 20. Sure, they weren't called chemists until a couple of hundred years ago, but the early chemists were chemists nonetheless.

And our government is doing everything it can to make sure we have no new generation of chemists. That may not be their intention, but it's certainly the likely result.


Friday, 2 February 2007
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08:10 - Our Great Blizzard of 2007 turned out to be a bust. We got a slight dusting of snow and no freezing rain.

The schools closed yesterday for what turned out to be no reason. When my parents moved to Winston-Salem in 1977, they had a good laugh at schools closing on a forecast of snow. Where I grew up, in Western Pennsylvania, the schools almost never closed. If there was too much snow and ice for the school buses to run, they'd announce that they were open anyway, and that students and teachers should get there however and whenever they could.

I remember walking with my brother to school one morning after a heavy snow, two feet or so. It took us something like 45 minutes or an hour to get there, counting time outs for snowball fights. After school, we walked home. And, yes, it was uphill both ways.

Barbara turned on the TV last night to watch the local news and weather. The weathergirl, Lanie Pope, wasn't even slightly apologetic about being utterly wrong. As she stood there telling us what she thought was going to happen last night and today, I told Barbara there was a reason why I call her Lanie the Lying Weather Weasel.

Posted by Bradley13 over on the messageboard.

For your amusement, here is a

Libertarian campaign speech, Australian style

Shame we can't get a few people like that elected...

There's hope for Australia, as long as she continues to produce good men like these.

09:51 - I'm not the only one who thinks our school administrators resemble the Cowardly Lion more than a little.

From: Paul Jones
  To: Robert Bruce Thompson
Date: Today 09:00:59
  Re: weathermen

Saw your page this morning.  What absolute horrible, lying bastards (bitches, as the case may be).  I'd add what horrible cowards are those leading our school systems (and, yes, our universities).  To close due to "fear" of poor roads?  For what it's worth, faculty and staff were given the day off yesterday yet the custodial staff was here.  I guess if you can't afford a lawyer, you have to come to work.  So, I lose one of 20 some classes and one of 12 labs. Because of light rain.  What a joke.  If I can get to campus, the students live here, let's have class.  It is the product we sell, after all.

And, yes, we watched the local news and I was appalled at how they went to such length to not talk about how badly they missed.  There was a car wreck up in the mountains - see! terrible weather.  Then they blamed global warming for their missed forecast.  They made fun of a sensible transplant from Vermont who thought all the fuss was funny.

There are a lot of battles to fight in these times but laying waste to the transmitting towers of our local media wouldn't be a bad place to start.  Running out on a rail the cowardly leaders who would facilitate such panic wouldn't be a bad encore.  (Not that the panic of snow isn't a nice metaphor, or part of the same symptom, as the national panic over every little thing - I guess we're going to need a lot of rails).

Grrr.  Argh.

Paul Jones
Associate Professor
Department of Chemistry
115-A Salem Hall
Wake Forest University
Winston-Salem, NC 27109


Saturday, 3 February 2007
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09:23 - Here's a story about a woman who probably opposes leash laws: Stray Dog Rescues Female Crash Victim. Her car had run off the road and crashed, throwing her through the rear window. A passing German Shepherd dragged her 50 yards back to the edge of the highway and helped her stand up to flag a passing car for help. Rin Tin Tin, indeed.

Things were better back before we had leash laws. When I was growing up, one seldom saw a dog on leash. Dogs and kids ran free, and there never seemed to be any problems. The dogs always seemed to get along with each other, and with everyone else. I don't recall ever seeing a dog fight. We had no idea who some of the dogs belonged to, including several that did their daily rounds like clockwork.

When I was three or four years old, there was a Great Pyrenees that showed up every day. He let the small kids ride him. He'd stand along the edge of the front porch of one of the neighborhood houses, and we'd climb over the porch railing and mount him as though he were a pony. He'd give us a ride around the yard, and then return to the porch to allow the rider to dismount and the next kid to take his turn.

He lived five or six blocks away from us, and his circuit included most of the North Hill, where we lived. He did have one odd habit. He stole other dogs' food bowls and took them home. Everyone on the North Hill knew that if their dogs' bowls turned up missing they could retrieve them from the house where that dog lived. There was often a collection of a dozen or so bowls lying out front awaiting their owners. I never knew that dog's name, but he was a good dog.

Whenever we kids did something as a group, there'd invariably be several dogs following us around like a bunch of little brothers. Usually, that wasn't a problem, unless we were playing ball. Then, some of the dogs insisted on participating. We had to have special rules for when a dog intercepted the ball and took off with it. For example, a grounder that was snatched by a dog was a ground-rule double. More than one game ended early because the dog who snatched the ball took off with it and wouldn't give it back.


Sunday, 4 February 2007
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