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Week of 4 June 2007

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Monday, 4 June 2007
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08:51 - The Blue Planet Run is well underway. The runners started from in front of the UN building in New York City at 10:30 a.m. EDT on Friday. Mary was the first runner. They all made it to Boston on schedule, and flew out of Logan at 7:00 p.m. last night, destination Ireland.

Paul stopped by yesterday to pick up their mail and a package. He told us a bit about what was happening. Alas, the promised blogs haven't started yet, apparently because of some problems they're having with the web site.

Although there are 20 runners, they've been divided into groups of four. Mary's group includes Mary, David Christof, Emmanuel Kibet, and Shiri Leventhal, who is Mary's roommate.

Although all 20 of the runners are seriously competent athletes, several of them are truly world-class. Paul told us about the results of the first 10-mile leg run by each of the runners in Mary's group. Mary, David, and Shiri all finished their first 10-mile runs in about 1:20. Emmanuel trotted in at the end of his 10-mile run in 0:59, and according to Paul hadn't even broken a sweat. Paul speculates that the organizers assigned one of the world-class runners to each of the five groups on the assumption that, if necessary, the world-class runners could "fill in" by running two 10-mile legs a day until the organizers could fly in a replacement runner if one of the other group members was injured or otherwise became unable to participate.

I spent most of yesterday doing re-write on one of the narrative chapters for the astronomy book. My editor is happy with it now, and so am I.

Last night, Barbara and I continued our Monarch-of-the-Glen-athon. It's a soap opera, but a very good soap opera. We've now watched the first ten episodes of series six, with only two episodes remaining. The seventh and final series isn't available yet on DVD in the US.

14:20 - Depressing news. I got a press release this morning that announces that Xandros has signed a deal with Microsoft similar to the deal Novell signed a couple of months ago. I sent the following response.

Wow. I'm sorry to hear that. Apparently Xandros didn't learn any lessons from the firestorm that occurred when Novell signed the same deal with Microsoft. All that Novell accomplished was to drive prospective SuSE buyers to Red Hat or another alternative.

Furthermore, Novell's deal is grandfathered in under GPL v3, whereas Xandros's deal won't be. That means that Xandros won't be able to distribute any software that's covered by GPL v3. I think Xandros just cut its own throat.

So Xandros is no longer on my recommended list. Oh, well.

15:30 - I honestly believe that Xandros doesn't realize what it's done. By agreeing to become a pawn in Microsoft's patent FUD offensive against Linux, they've set themselves up as one of the bad guys. A few minutes after I posted the previous entry, I got the following response from the lead PR person for Xandros. I was struck by the irony of Xenia's promise to have the CEO of Xandros call me just as soon as he finished his conference call with Microsoft. Oh, well.

From: Xenia von Wedel (Terpin Communications)
  To: Robert Bruce Thompson
Date: Today 14:30:01
  Re: RE: Xandros Playing in the Big Guys League...

Hi Robert, I don't think your analyses here is correct. Would be happy to set you up with CEO Andreas Typaldos if you give me your phone number.

He is currently in a concall line together with MS, so I'd try to get you in within the next hour. But need your availability and phone number.

Thanks and regards,

Thanks, but there's no point. Xandros at one fell swoop just threw away years of accumulated goodwill, as will be obvious if you read the threads on this topic in the Xandros forums. You have people there who have been there since version 1.0 and have made 1,000+ posts, and who have announced that they're abandoning Xandros, in many cases literally today. A few have posted messages of support, but they're in a very small minority. The most loyal Xandros users, those who have been evangelizing Xandros for years (including me), see this as an unforgivable betrayal, and one that will inevitably mean the destruction of Xandros, and sooner rather than later.

My daily journal page has many thousands of readers, at least hundreds of whom tried Xandros on my recommendation. Then there are the many thousands of people who buy my books, many of which recommend Xandros. But as far as I'm concerned, by signing this agreement with Microsoft, Xandros has gone from being part of the solution to being part of the problem, and nearly all of my readers who use Xandros and recommend it themselves will agree with that position.

There's simply nothing that Xandros can do at this point to salvage anything. Even if Xandros withdrew unilaterally from the agreement, the fact that they signed the agreement in the first place means that they can never be trusted again.

I'm really, really sorry this happened. I liked Xandros very much, and I was stunned when I read the press release. Please remove me from your mailing list.


Tuesday, 5 June 2007
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10:45 - Until yesterday, I hadn't visited the Xandros Forums in many months, perhaps a year or more. As I've said before, the Xandros Forums are a very friendly place. Lots of helpful people, almost no flaming, and a real sense of community. I signed up in July 2004, just after I wiped out Windows on my systems and converted pretty much exclusively to Xandros. At first, I went there to get help; later I spent more time offering help than asking for it.

I was a pretty minor participant, though. I have something over 100 posts total. There are members of that forum who joined it in Xandros 1.0 days and have posted 1,000 or more messages. A significant number of those old-timers wrote off Xandros yesterday. By signing that agreement with Microsoft, Xandros with one stroke of the pen lost many, perhaps most, of its key supporters and evangelists. Some remain, certainly, but as of yesterday the Xandros Forums became a pale shadow of what they once were.

I suppose that, as a commercial Linux distributor, Xandros decided that the money was in servers. Selling $40 to $100 copies of their desktop OS in onesies and twosies to individuals probably wasn't enough to sustain them, and I suspect their corporate sales were quite low volume. So perhaps Xandros decided that the only place they could make money was in server sales, and to do that they had to strike a deal with Microsoft. Come into my parlour, said the spider to the fly.

No news about what's going on with the Blue Planet Run. Apparently, the organizers aren't able to get the blogs up. I know that Mary and her roommate are writing blog entries, and I suspect all of the other runners are as well, but until BPR gets the problems on the web site corrected there's no way for us to see the blogs. I told Paul Sunday that if worse comes to horrible Mary could set up an account on blogger.com or one of the other free blogging services and post her entries there. I hope they get things worked out soon, because I'd really like to follow their progress.


Wednesday, 6 June 2007
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08:35 - Happy Birthday to me. Today, I turn 20-34, or, as I prefer to think of it, 0x36.

Someone once said that young people spend their time thinking about how to change the future, while old people spend their time remembering the past. On that basis, I'm still young, and probably will be for the foreseeable future. Oh, from time to time I think back on the way things were and regret some of what we've lost, but mostly I think about what's to come.

Jasmine's birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks. She turns 14. As we were standing in her front yard the other evening talking about our upcoming birthdays, I mentioned in passing that I'm 40 years older than she is. I think that gave both of us pause. She's a very grown-up 14 in terms of intellectual and emotional maturity. And we do have some interesting exchanges.

Me: You're a young adult now.
Jas: No ...
Me: Well, what are you then?
Jas: I'm still a kid. I don't want to be an adult.

Although it sounds odd, I'm concerned because Jasmine treats me with too much respect. She refuses to disagree with me or contradict me. I've told her that I want her to challenge me when she thinks I'm wrong, but that's going to be an uphill battle.

Me: Jas, you do know that adults aren't always right? It's okay to disagree politely if you think we're wrong.
Jas: No, I couldn't contradict an adult... except my mother.

Boy, did I have a hard time keeping a straight face after that comment. Jasmine is intellectually honest, which is a pearl beyond price, and the fundamental requirement for being a scientist.

If Jas has one failing, it's that she absolutely, positively hates to make mistakes. I suggested the other night that she go and look up the list of all-time leaders in home runs, and then compare that list with the all-time leaders in strike-outs. As I told her, if you're not swinging for the fences, you're not going to be a home-run hitter, and if you're swinging for the fences you're going to strike out a lot.

15:00 - Word from Mary.

From: Paul Jones
  To: Robert Bruce Thompson
Date: Today 14:33:22
  Re: contact!

Just as I was sending that last message I got skyped by Mary. Thanks so much for setting that up for us. Anyway, things are going reasonably well. Things are going really well with the run proper (see below). Her legs are holding up, things are organized well enough (not as completely as I (or Mary) would like, but well enough.), and, though she is minus a lot of sleep, she's holding her own. Like I say, the main thing is that her running is okay - knees and hip holding up. Supposedly, blogging will commence in the next few days. She's had a couple of massages and the medical staff traveling with them, as well as the support crew, she really likes. She sounded happy but tired. I'm sure she'll get more tired, but I think she has been through about as much travel turmoil as they're likely to face (two full days in vans, with no hotel, catching sleep on the ferry, etc.) and she, and the team, are fine.

Thanks again for pointing out skype to us.  We got dropped a couple of times but it was a good quality call other than that.


Thursday, 7 June 2007
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08:37 - Holy cow! Talk about a completely outrageous miscarriage of justice. FTA:

"A judge said Wednesday he'll rule by next week on the appeal of a man sentenced to 10 years in prison for having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl when he was 17."

So, we have a boy sentenced to ten years in prison for engaging in completely normal behavior, behavior in which millions of teenagers engage every day. Even when he's released, the nightmare won't be over. He'll be a convicted "sex offender", required to register whenever he moves to a new home, restricted from entering many occupations, and otherwise deprived of his civil rights. All of this for doing what literally millions of teenagers do every day.

Sadly, none of the jury appeared to be aware of their power to nullify simply by voting "not guilty" regardless of whether this boy had engaged in the act for which he was tried. In my opinion, jury nullification is such an important safeguard that judges should be required to point out to the jury members before they retire to consider their verdict that it is within their right and power to acquit the defendant if they believe the law is wrong or has been wrongly applied. In fact, I'd argue that it's their duty.

Someone asked over on the messageboard about which Linux we'd recommend for newbies now that Xandros is off our recommended list. Ron Morse replied in detail, and I think what he wrote is worth reproducing here.

My recommendations:

If you are completely new to Linux, SimplyMepis. Easy install, very stable, good hardware detection. Good feature set. Kernel and app versions tend to trail current releases by a bit, but new users benefit from the enhanced stability. User support community is passionate, but polite, dedicated. Very Xandros-like, but without the corporate pretensions. 

Freespire/Linspire.  There's nothing wrong with the distro that a little development wouldn't fix, but it looks to me like the parent organization is headed for the great repository in the sky. Freespire is free, you could try it.

kubuntu (the KDE front end is more windows-like than the companion Ubuntu). Started out preaching a "humanist" approach to computing, but is evolving (rapidly) into something else. Kubuntu is vastly configurable (maybe too configurable for new users) and incredibly powerful, but state-of-the-art features are accompanied by a little of the risk that comes with life on the bleeding edge.  Kubuntu is on a rigid 6-month development cycle and conventional wisdom indicates users should stay a release behind if stability is the most important consideration. Right now that would mean installing the still available and supported version 6.10 instead of the current, current 7.04. Kubuntu is a bit sensitive about hardware...there are things (certain wireless adapters and video cards come to mind) that either work or can be made to work with other distributions that simply do not work easily with Kubuntu. For all that, Kubuntu is my distro of choice. I run both the current 7.04 and a pre-release of the next version (7.10) and I hammer the hell out of both. Makes me happy.

PClinuxOS.  (revised from earlier version of this post). A brand new version of the previously lackluster PClinuxOS was released in May 2007. Still heavily based on the corporate-centric Mandriva Linux it now sports a current and complete, if rather vanilla looking KDE desktop. All the good stuff seems to be there. Multi-media suite is complete and includes a number of CODECs that other distributions don't, although it is still compliant with US and German law regarding support for CSS (don't worry if you don't know what that means).  I haven't used PClinuxOS extensively, but the live CD of the new version (PClinuxOS 2007) doesn't like my my video card (ATI X1950XTX) which is not unusual - a number of of distributions have problems with the ATI R580 chipset.  Two aspects of this distribution may be useful to new users...it's the first Linux I've seen offering an optional GUI interface for the GRUB boot loader (always interesting for the new user on the first encounter) and it borrows many of the Mandrake setup wizards to assist the user in configuring a number of system aspects. Wizards (known here as Drakes - after Mandrake the Magician - netdrake, printdrake, diskdrake, deskdrake, etc.) are interactive step-by-step guides leading a user through a specific topic. Back in the day when Mandrake was new and exciting, drakes (and the .rpm package management system) were going to lead us all out of the darkness and into a Windows-free universe. Except Linux in general wasn't ready for prime time back then, and the Drakes simply didn't work.  I would very much like a windows-savy but new to Linux user to give this one a try and let us know what you think. 

Fedora 7.  If Microsoft made a Linux, this would be it.  Big, brawny, kitchen-sink approach. Some say fat. Definitely still the big kid on the block. Probably not a good distribution for an old P-III machine with 384mb RAM and  one 20Gb hard drive. Loves users. Would love them even more if they went away. Fedora 7 is the Linux for Aunt Minnie if you want to take the Windows approach to new users -- here it is, take it or leave it.  Now, this pretty much worked for Microsoft in that people learned enough Windows to get by even if their learning consisted of nothing more than a keystroke by keystroke crib sheet on an index card taped to the desk in front of the monitor.  Having said that, Fedora 7 installs easily and is very well integrated. Things just work. From the user standpoint, it is a very polished release with pretty visuals and default configurations that are well considered and wisely chosen.  I haven't spent a lot of time with Fedora 7, but it reminds me of what Jerry Pournelle wrote about the Macintosh...it is different, but once you get past the differences, things are either very simple (and that incorporates the vast majority of stuff you want to do with a computer) or simply impossible. My impression is that Fedora is a lot like that. It feels to me like it was developed to be on a corporate desktop. Just like Windows. Like Kubuntu, it is a bit of a stretch for a brand new user because there are some things that you just have to grind through in order to be useful, but you are not going to outgrow Fedora (or Kubuntu) like you most likely will Xandros or SimplyMepis.

Of the distros that Ron mentions, the only one I have recent experience with is Kubuntu. Still, I'll take Ron's word for it, because he's looked at a lot more distros than I have and he's a sensible guy.

I've set up a lot of Xandros boxes for family, friends, and neighbors, and I'll leave those as is for now. When they need to be upgraded, I'll probably migrate them to Kubuntu and do the required fettling Ron mentions myself. That's one of the very nice things about Linux. If one distro disappears or otherwise becomes unsuitable, it's very easy to migrate to another distro.

13:05 - If you think Paris Hilton is just another stupid bimbo, think again. She's just been released from jail after serving only three days of her sentence. And how did she manage that? If you guessed she hired a top-notch lawyer to spring her, you'd be wrong. She already had a top-notch defensive team, and all they managed to do was get her sentence cut from 45 days to 23 days. Paris herself managed to weasel out of 20 of those 23 days by crying. I am not making this up.


Friday, 8 June 2007
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10:40 - The blogs are finally active on the Blue Planet Run site. Mary's is here. I kept checking, and they finally came up live last night. This morning, I got the following from Paul.

From: Paul Jones
  To: Paul Jones
  CC: <many recipients>
Date: Today 07:34:18
  Re: UK

Hello again,

I got a very brief email from Mary, indicating that she and her team have landed in France.  They arrived from Dover on June 7, missing a nice coincidence by a mere day. She reports the last run went well and that she was tired.  So, not much to tell there.

I can tell you that the Blue Planet Run site has been updated and some brief essays on the first few days of the run now appear on the first page.  They're spun, I believe, and are more a pitch for donations than news but, then, I guess that is the point.  Also, Mary's blog is now up.  In fact, I haven't read them yet so I don't know how long they are or from when.  But, hopefully, this will begin some automatic updates.  In the event that you're all now getting updates from Mary, let me know.  I can't recall if she put me on her general list.

Some links:


The latter is David Christof's blog.  He is a subteam member with Mary on Team Gray (or, as they call themselves, Team Silver).  The first photo features David who is about to head off and, left to right, Victor Lara Rocco (other team), Emmanuel Kibet, David, Simon Issacs (other team) and Shiri Leventhal.  If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you'll notice someone sleeping in the passenger seat of the van.

Cheers, Paul

14:14 - I usually enjoy reading Fred Reed. He's usually on-point. He's an intelligent man and generally rational, although there are subjects upon which he is irrational (notably, he supports the Intelligent Design nut cases). So, Fred clearly has no understanding of science and is in fact anti-science. I don't like that, but I can live with it. It's something he has in common with perhaps 50% of the American public. But there is one subject to which he frequently returns that really annoys me, typified by this quote from his latest column:

So far as I know, only North American women are forever coiled to strike. I meet all manner of women from other countries—Mexico, France, Israel, Italy, Thailand, China, on and on. Many have responsible positions, run their own companies, what have you. If you gave them a hard time, you would probably get one in return, but they default to civility. Which is all that is required.

I know a lot of North American women, and with very, very few exceptions I wouldn't describe any of them as "forever coiled to strike". Fred's selective misogyny has, as far as I can see, no basis in reality. I know he is divorced, and I presume the divorce must have been a bitter one. But even so, there's no excuse for Fred generalizing his evident dislike for his ex-wife to include more than 150 million other North American women. (Fred moved to Mexico and married a Mexican woman, so presumably he counts only US and Canadian women among this group, although, the last time I looked, Mexico was part of North America.)

I've also known many women from Europe, Asia, Australia, and other places outside North America, and nearly all of them were also nice people. But, to paraphrase the Beach Boys, I wish they all could be North American girls.

15:43 - Well, I see that Paris Hilton has been dragged, literally kicking and screaming, back to the slammer.

Upon reflection, I've reconsidered. Her 45-day sentence is obviously excessive and unjust. Here's a woman who, with malice aforethought, murdered her husband by shooting him in the back with a shotgun, and she was sentenced to only 210 days. Going to jail for 45 days for driving without a license does seem a bit excessive by that yardstick. Paris could have intentionally shot and killed someone and been sentenced to only 165 days more.

I'm wondering if I could get sentenced to serve concurrent terms. If so, there are quite a few people I'd like to murder. If I could nail a couple dozen of them and end up having to serve only 210 days in prison in total, that might not be such a bad deal. I could even commit those crimes while driving without a license and probably not get another 45 days added on. This has some real possibilities.


Saturday, 9 June 2007
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10:11 - Paul sent along some images of Mary from the preliminaries of the Blue Planet Run. The first image shows, left to right, Jin Zidell, the founder and chairman of the Blue Planet Run; Andrew Liveris, the CEO of Dow, which is the presenting sponsor of the BPR; Mary Chervenak, who has just found out that she'll be the first runner and will have to give a speech at the UN kick-off; and Hilary Swank, two-time Oscar winner, and BPR supporter. The second image shows Mary speaking at the kick-off event at the UN, just before she grabbed the baton, stormed off the stage, and took off running through the streets of New York City, colliding with a hapless pedestrian in the process (see her blog.)


Sunday, 10 June 2007
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