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Week of 26 February 2007

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Monday, 26 February 2007
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08:31 - All of the Border Collies I've had turn a bit strange when they get old. And I've had a lot of Border Collies over almost 50 years, usually two or three at a time. Sometimes the peculiarities are unique to a particular dog, but all Border Collies seem to have a few things in common as they age. One of the most noticeable is that they start to assume blocking positions, presumably because they're afraid they're no longer capable of circling and cutting off errant members of their flocks.

Duncan, who turned 12 years old on New Year's Day, is no exception. He's taken up blocking me at every turn. For example, yesterday I was doing the laundry. I carried up a basket of clothes, spread them on our bed, and started to hang them in the closet. In wanders Duncan, who proceeds to flop on the floor halfway between the bed and the closet, spreading himself out to make as large an obstacle as possible. To make matters worse, it's no longer safe to step over him, because he frequently decides to leap to his feet just as I start to step over him. He apparently fears that I'll step on him, which of course is more likely to happen when he jumps up at just the wrong moment. It's very annoying, but I can't really yell at an old dog for being an old dog.

The other strange thing about old Border Collies is that they develop bizarre new fears. For example, when Kerry was about 14, he suddenly decided he was afraid of ordinary AA cells. Not 9V transistor batteries, mind you, or even D cells, but AA cells. I found out about that one day when I was changing the AA cells in one of my remotes. Kerry saw what I was doing, and immediately put his ears back and staggered off at his highest rate of speed.

It took a while to narrow down the possibilities. At first, I thought I'd said something that frightened him, but I couldn't remember saying much at all. Then I thought perhaps it was the remote control itself that he was afraid of. I eliminated that possibility by holding up the remote in front of him. He ignored it. It wasn't until some days later, when I was replacing the AA cells in a digital camera that I heard Kerry start scrambling, trying to get to his feet. There I sat on the sofa with some AA cells and a dog fleeing down the hall in fear of his life.

After that, I was careful not to have batteries visible when Kerry was around. Then one day I forgot. I was replacing the D cells in Barbara's Maglite or something, and I noticed that Kerry was ignoring me. I thought he'd forgotten his fear of batteries, so I went into the kitchen and got some AA cells. As soon as he saw them, he scrambled to his feet and took off. So I resigned myself to having a dog who was afraid of AA cells.

This message was posted over on the messageboard by a long-time reader. I know from reading his posts for years that he's technically competent, so I'm sure the experiences he describes in struggling with install Vista (and XP) are not untypical.

Chuck Waggoner Search for posts by this member.
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PostIcon Posted on: Feb. 24 2007,13:36 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts DELETE EDIT QUOTE

At the moment, I am struggling with the migration from a relative's malfunctioning XP Pro to Vista Home Premium on a new Medion system, which has a dual Pentium D 2.8ghz processor.  Medion is the Aldi grocery store brand; I know, I know--I don’t pick ‘em, I just service them.  At least it has an Intel motherboard and processor.  Unfortunately, although it has the possibility of an 800mhz FSB, it has only 1gb of 400mhz RAM.  All I can say is that with Vista, that hard drive is chugging ALL the time.

After about 6 hours, I guess I have to say that Vista sucks.  Too many people have been away from Windows 2000 for too long.  My list of programs is over in the General Forum, and I attempted to install just a few on the Vista machine, and they are failing installation from the main Administrator account.  These include D4 time synchronization, which fails with a message that the native Windows time synchronization cannot be shut off--even though I turned it off manually before installing D4.  D4 claims it attempted to shut it off, but said I was not installing from an account with enough Administrator privileges.  Um, either you are an Administrator or you aren't.  Vista even identifies the account as the Administrator for the computer at log-on.

And--of all programs,--the latest IrfanView fails, too.  After the initial installation choices, I cannot get past the next step to file installation.  There is no explanation whatever; just a failure announcement.

It does not help that I am dealing with a German language Vista installation, nor is it helpful that Vista has once again needlessly rearranged options and menu choices--including combining some and breaking other groupings apart.  Just try finding "Display" options in Vista.  That little dialog box with 5 or 6 convenient tabs, has now broken those tabs into several different locations.  Wonderful.  Moreover, the new effect of making EVERY SINGLE window and dialog box zoom on and off makes using a computer more dizzying than a trip through the Matterhorn in the dark at Disneyland.  I had no problems installing any of my favorites in XP; all completed and are working.  But I cannot even get through just a reduced portion of that installation list on Vista.

This experience has also soured me further on XP.  Here is a typical problem with XP.  I needed to transfer all the user files from the malfunctioning XP computer.  I’ll just create a shared folder on my new XP laptop and transfer them there, me thought, since I do not have enough facilities to get both the new and old desktop computers on the local network at the same time.  My laptop, Bianca, let me create a folder, but would not let me share it outside of herself.  Unlike W2k, which has an “Everyone” permission setting, incredibly, XP does not!  Supposedly, I can poll all the network machines and choose from them to authorize one for sharing, but it would not poll the network, and the box where the remote computer choices appear is greyed out, so I cannot type in anything manually, either.

Now, maybe I could spend an hour or so researching how to solve this, but I do not have that kind of time.  In fact, I really do not have time to do this job at all, but it would not work to refuse family in this case.  So, I returned to the trusty W2k installation on my wife’s laptop, Eros; created a folder, gave it “Everyone” privileges, and shared it--that took all of about 20 seconds.  Gotta love that W2k.  Transfer of the 2gb of files over the wireless network was finished in 2:30 hours.

In the next step, the Medion Vista would not let Eros in, so instead of pushing files from Eros, I had to pull the files from Eros using Medion.  I could have babysat Eros, but Medion is in another part of the house, so I had to make several trips over about 4 hours, only to find transfer problems with several files, which--of course--stopped the transfer until somebody said “skip”.  Who knows why there would be any problems transferring files (error dialog in German, again) to a clean hard drive, but screw it--3 file failures out of 2gb is not bad.  I blame Vista for the failures--I have never had a file transfer failure on the W2k machines.

This experience has just about clinched my complete disinterest in both XP and Vista.  I am seriously thinking about backgrading Bianca from XP to W2k, even though I now have several weeks invested in getting her to the current state with XP.

I know that if fulltime IT folks have these problems, they get paid to research and solve them, but I do not.  W2k works; XP and Vista are riddled with troubles.  Actually, it reminds me of my 2 months with Red Hat back in 2003.  Life is not long enough for me to spend days of it researching and solving dozens of problems with more waiting in the wings.  The networking access problems are particularly egregious.  I am really shocked that the only way around them is to run a computer wide open with no account protection--just adding user accounts and passwords to an XP computer makes the task well nigh a Mt. Everest trip.

I discussed the possibility of backgrading the Medion to W2k with the new owner, but I do not have any licenses for the German language version of W2k, and where do you buy more these days?  The installation has to be German, so Vista it remains.

As far as I'm concerned, Windows 2000 was the last usable operating system that Microsoft released. I have it installed on one system that I keep for running software that absolutely requires Windows. I blew away Vista and destroyed the distribution discs. I also blew away XP, but I kept the distribution discs and licenses for it even though I'll never run it here. I sometimes build or upgrade systems for friends, some of whom aren't ready to take the Linux plunge. The XP licenses I have are full versions, so it makes sense to give them away to people who need them rather than having them pay money for XP.


Tuesday, 27 February 2007
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08:50 - Cameron's big announcement yesterday was greeted by collective yawns. Christians won't even consider the possibility that the tomb Cameron talks about was really the tomb of Jesus Christ, and most archaeologists seem unimpressed as well. Pournelle makes the standard argument on his page, which is basically that if you found a tomb with remains of John, Paul, and George, you couldn't reasonably assume that you'd found the tomb of the Beatles.

On the other hand, if you found a tomb with the remains of John, Paul, George, and Ringo, you might more reasonably think you'd found the tomb of the Beatles. And that may be the case here. One of the ossuaries included the bones of "Mariamene", which was an extraordinarily uncommon name and was apparently the name used by or for Mary Magdalene at least as early as 185 CE.

Ultimately, it won't matter a whit. No amount of evidence would convince Christians, whose whole belief system would be entirely undermined by such a discovery. And all of this rests on an unproven assumption: that Jesus Christ was a real, historical person. No hard evidence for that assumption exists, which may seem reasonable given the amount of time that has passed. But it's interesting to note that hard evidence does exist for the historicity of numerous other actors in that play, including such relatively minor ones as Barabbus. If Jesus Christ was a real, historical person, the complete absence of contemporary documentary evidence is difficult to explain.


Wednesday, 28 February 2007
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09:37 - I'm working heads-down on the astronomy book, so there's not a lot to report.

I do need to make a final decision about writing more computer books. At this point, I'm pretty sure I won't write any new computer books, although I may consider doing revisions to the Repairing/Upgrading and Building books if O'Reilly asks me to do so and if sales justify the amount of work involved.

My problem is that it takes a lot of time and effort to keep up with the technology. As he delivered yet another box of computer components one day, my UPS guy commented that he made more deliveries to our house than he did to many of his business customers. And, while it's nice to have people send me boxes of shiny things, all that "free" stuff actually has a significant price tag. I spend a lot of time developing and maintaining relations with component makers, convincing them that I really need samples of particular components, and so on. And then, when the stuff arrives, I have to evaluate and test it.

All of that would be fine if PC hardware books sold in the numbers they did back before the dot-com crash. Alas, sales volumes have plummeted, not just for PC hardware books but for nearly all computer books. Back then, some of the most popular titles sold 100,000 copies per year or more, and were often revised yearly. Nowadays, most computer book authors consider a book that sells 10,000 copies to be doing well, and one that sells 20,000 copies to be a runaway bestseller. Royalties have fallen proportionately, and now writing most computer books means doing a whole lot of work for not much money.

When I started keeping this journal page nearly a decade ago, I described myself as "a writer of computer books". Even then, though, the important part was "writer" rather than "computer books". So, I'll continue to be a writer, but of things other than computer books. My agent, Dave Rogelberg, started the StudioB agency to represent computer book authors. He tells me that nowadays computer books are a small part of his business. Most of their authors now focus their attention on corporate communications, whitepapers and so on. Dave tells me that doing whitepapers is less work for higher pay. So I suspect that's what I'll be devoting much of my time to in the coming years.

Not that I'm giving up entirely on books. I'm working now on an astronomy book for O'Reilly, as well as the home chem lab book. And I'm sure that I'll do other books for O'Reilly over the coming years, but I'm pretty sure none of them will be computer books.

That leaves me with a problem. The HardwareGuys.com messageboard is very popular, and I plan to keep it available indefinitely. But I can no longer afford to devote the time and money necessary to obtain and test new components. (Contrary to popular belief, I actually have to buy a lot of the stuff I test.) The ongoing discussion threads obviously aren't a problem, but I'm not sure what to do about recommendations. The days when I'd get a dozen motherboards in for testing are long gone, as are the days when I could devote a lot of time and effort to, say, testing DVD writers comprehensively. I'd continued doing that long after it became obvious to me that it was a losing proposition, because I didn't want to let my readers down.

But I can no longer justify the time and effort that requires, and I'm not sure what to do. Perhaps I should just take down the recommendations, which rapidly become obsolete anyway, and allow readers to post their own reviews.


Thursday, 1 March 2007
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08:28 - There's something fundamentally wrong with the order of things when we have what appear to be middle-class teenage girls robbing banks.

At least they appear to be having a good time. They'll be caught, no doubt. When they are, I have a suggestion for the court that tries them. Don't sentence them to a long stretch in prison. Instead, humiliate them. Put them on a platform in the public square with the TV cameras running, strip them naked, bend them over, and cane them until their butts are bleeding. Then tell them to go and rob banks no more.

Some might object that this would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. So what? Give them a choice of being caned publicly or serving 20-year terms in prison. I think I can guess which punishment they'd choose, and it would after all only be making up for what they missed growing up. If their parents had spanked them when they misbehaved, this would never have happened.


Friday, 2 March 2007
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09:04 - A serious question from Jim Cooley.

From: James Cooley
  To: <numerous recipients>
Date: Today 01:28:29
  Re: Is this legal?

I'm afraid I don't follow the news much, I don't listen to talk radio (except for Dr Laura when I'm driving) and read no overtly political blogs. The few I do read skew toward a libertarian slant and are all social commentary on popular culture.

I'm afraid I still don't know anything about Gore and his utility bill. From watching the Oscars, though, I came to the conclusion he seems to have a problem with conservation in regard to what he puts in his mouth. An Inconvenient Disconnect? But I jest...

So when I just saw this headline on Google News, I was a bit taken aback: Senate Democrats plan to bar White House Iran attack

Now it seems to me, and please correct me if I'm wrong (I don't mean that rhetorically, else I wouldn't be writing this note) that the President, as commander in chief of the armed forces may execute and command action against foreign powers if they present an immediate, clear and present danger to the country. JFK and the Bay of Pigs comes to mind.

Yet in order to prevent war-mongering by a loose cannon-ball president, Congress needs to authorize a declaration of war as show of support by the people in order for such action to continue.

This is an example of representative democracy: whereby we elect people better "in the know" than we to act on our behalf.

One would assume a congress-critter to be better informed than you or I, and one hopes the president to be still more informed than they.

So it strikes me as completely ass-backward that a gang in Congress would try to check the president before he's acted. I'm all for checks and balances, for better or worse, mind you; but this just seems, well, wrong. Perhaps I should have paid more attention in my civics class back in 4th grade.


Historically, it's been an unwritten rule that Congress controls the Army and the president controls the Navy and Marines. In emergent situations, the president can use the Navy and Marines to deal with the problem short-term, but he requires the approval of Congress before he can deploy the Army. Ordinarily, that should require a declaration of war, although since the "police action" in Korea we've done an awful lot of fighting in an awful lot of places without any formal declarations of war. It seems that the advice and consent of Congress now suffices for what would formerly have required a formal declaration of war. I don't much like that.


Saturday, 3 March 2007
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09:17 - Barbara needed some stuff from Wal*Mart. Usually I don't go shopping, but I needed some stuff, too, so we decided to stop at a deli for dinner and then visit Wal*Mart together.

As we arrived at Wal*Mart, I told Barbara I'd get the stuff I needed and then sit out in the Trooper reading until she'd finished shopping. She thought I'd need about the same amount of time to find the stuff I needed as she would, but I told her no way. She had several things on her list and also planned to buy some groceries. The only things on my list were ammunition, a weather radio, a CD cleaner, and some kitchen drawer dividers for the lab. I told her I estimated it would take me 8 to 9 minutes portal to portal. She thought I was kidding, and suggested that I come and find her when I finished shopping.
I headed for sporting goods department first, where I encountered Dumb and Dumber. I noticed that they had shotgun shells on the shelves in the public aisles, but I didn't see any .22 rimfire. I asked the kid at the counter, who said he thought they might have them. He shouted over to his boss, an older guy, who said they didn't have any .22 rimfire. He said all they had was regular .22's. I told him those would do, and he asked if I wanted a "big box or a little box". I told him definitely big, and he fished out a bulk box of 550 Federal .22 Long Rifle hollow-points, which cost $9.88. I had him get me a second box.

Then I asked if he had any .45 ACP. He'd never heard of .45 ACP, but said they did carry "regular Winchester .45's". By that time I'd figured out that he was clueless, so I asked him to see what they had. He brought out a box of 100 Winchester 230-grain hardball .45 ACPs, which cost $26.97. That's also a pretty good price, and I was about to ask him for a second box when I realized that I'd be carrying this stuff around the store. So I paid for the 1,100 rounds of .22 LR and 100 rounds of .45 ACP, and headed for the electronics section, lugging a heavy bag of ammunition. At least he'd double-bagged it. Think of carrying three bricks in a plastic bag and you have it about right.

I spent about two minutes in the electronics section. They were out of stock on the weather radios, so I grabbed a CD cleaner, paid for it, and headed for kitchen products. They didn't have any drawer dividers I liked, so I headed for the door. Total elapsed time was about 9 minutes.

Then I realized that I was supposed to find Barbara. I wandered around for another few minutes before deciding it was hopeless. That Wal*Mart Super Center is about the size of a football field, but with aisles. So I headed for the Trooper and read my book until Barbara arrived.

10:36 - Ah, my mistake. An American football field is 160 feet wide by 360 feet long, including the endzones. That makes its area 57,600 square feet (~5,350 square meters). The Wal*Mart supercenter I was in is about four times that size. No wonder I couldn't find Barbara.

As we were leaving Wal*Mart, Barbara said she wished she'd thought to tell me to turn on my cell phone. That would have worked, certainly, but it must be the height of something or other to have to use cell phones to find each other inside a store.


Sunday, 4 March 2007
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