Week of 11 June 2007
Update: Friday, 15 June 2007 14:46 -0400
Mary is hanging in there. Since the start of the Blue Planet Run
on 1 June, she's already run the equivalent of about three full
Marathons, and the run is only about 10% complete. Her husband, Paul,
sent the following update yesterday.
From: Paul Jones
To: <many recipients>
Date: Yesterday 15:09:59
I spoke briefly with Mary a few
minutes ago. She had a rough Saturday, with some sort of stomach
ailment that prevented a full run.
In her run this morning, she was
the runner today who crossed the French/Belgian border. European
borders aren't really the big deal they are here. She reports that this
particular border was being guarded only by some uninterested cows and
a prodigious growth of nettles and there was a sign welcoming folks to
Belgium. (Actually, isn't nettle soup supposed to be soothing to upset
stomachs? I should suggest this). Her team now has a day off and won't
run again until 3pm Tuesday local time. According to the website, that
will be Almere in the Netherlands. She'll visit a Dow site tomorrow
(her days off are only from running, evidently). There are, I
think, six baton exchanges slated for European Dow sites. They'll be
hitting several in the next week. I think Mary and Heiko will have to
show up for those even if they're not running.
More when I hear. -Paul
Mary Chervenak and Silver teammate Emmanuel Kibet passing the baton in the French countryside
Over the weekend, I decided to make a change to my daily backup
routine. In addition to backing up my working data set every day to
multiple local hard drives and network drives, I had been writing a
DVD+R disc every morning. I kept the most recent six Monday through
Saturday daily discs in the disc wallet that goes everywhere with me,
as well as about six months' worth of Sunday discs and full sets of my
archive (deep archive) and holding (recent archive) sets. The only real
problem with that method is that it produces a lot of backup discs, 365 per year give or take.
So I decided to burn a backup DVD+R disc only once a week, on Sunday.
The obvious problem with that is that I can't routinely carry my primary
desktop system with me when I leave the house, so I needed a
portable daily backup set. The obvious answer to that is an external
hard drive (or, ideally, multiple drives). I've been using external
hard drives all along, of course, but I decided to rationalize things
by building two external hard drives solely for daily backups, to be
labeled A and B. I'll back up to A on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays,
and to B on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. When I leave the house,
at least one and probably both of those external drives will go with me.
I've used many different external drive enclosures from various makers,
and I've never been completely happy with any of them. Most of them, in
fact, ended up in the trash. Antec sent me a couple of their
new Veris MX-1 actively-cooled external hard drive enclosures,
so I decided to give them a shot. These aren't inexpensive enclosures.
NewEgg sells them for about $60 each, about twice what
I've paid for enclosures from some well-known companies. But
those $30 enclosures don't stand up to daily use. On one of them, the
cooling fan died without warning and took a hard drive with it when the
enclosure overheated. On others, the connectors have snapped off
despite careful use. At about twice the price, the Antec MX-1
should be better built and more durable.
Here's a view of the back panel of the MX-1. From left to right, the
connectors are for power, USB 2.0, and eSATA. Vents are visible above
and below the connector panel.
When I opened the MX-1 box and pulled out the enclosure, I was disappointed at first. The Antec MX-1 enclosure is
extremely light. It feels like it's made of plastic, and thin plastic at that. The $30 units I'd
used were of mostly steel and aluminum construction, so I wondered how
Antec could justify charging twice as much for a plastic box.
I soon found out. The MX-1 uses composite construction similar to that
used in mid-range and high-end Antec computer cases, with
plastic-aluminum sandwich panels to suppress noise and vibration and a carbon-glass filled frame for
stiffness. What appeared at first glance to be cheap plastic
construction is in fact an engineered composite design that
uses expensive materials.
Installing the drive is a two-minute job. The enclosure uses one long
black screw to connect the top and bottom halves. With that screw
removed, the top of the enclosure can be slid backward a few
millimeters and lifted off. The drive tray is secured to the bottom of
the chassis with two screws. Once you've removed those, you can slide
and lift the tray and move it from the chassis. There's a cable that
links to the LED that the instructions indicate you should remove. That
cable is long enough that you can install the drive without removing
the cable if you're careful. If you do disconnect the cable, disconnect
it by pulling apart the in-line connector rather than removing the
connector from the circuit board. I did the latter, and it was a pain
in the butt to get it reconnected. (I didn't see the in-line connector
until after I'd disconnected the connector at the circuit board.)
With the drive tray removed, mounting the hard drive is very easy.
Unlike all other external enclosures I've used, which have short jumper
cables for the SATA power and data connectors, the Antec MX-1 has
built-in connectors. You simply place the hard drive in the tray and
slide it toward the built-in connectors until they mate. That's a much
better solution than using short cables, which invariably end up
crammed into too small a space and possibly folded or crimped.
Once the drive is in place, you secure it with four screws (provided)
that thread into the bottom of the drive. Antec uses a soft plastic
surround to isolate the drive from the chassis and minimize drive
noise. The four screws are the typical Antec mounting screws with
oversized heads that thread through soft plastic grommets to further
isolate drive noise and vibration. Once the drive is secured in the
tray, you simply slide the tray back into the chassis, reinstall the
two screws to secure the tray to the chassis, drop the cover back
into place, slide it forward
until it locks, and then reinstall the long black screw.
The Antec MX-1 comes with several cables and accessories. The power
supply is one of the nice in-line units rather than the typical cheap
wall-wart. With the proliferation of devices that need to be plugged
in, I've come more and more to appreciate ones that come with in-line
power supplies that fit power strips without taking up more than one
position. The MX-1 also comes with a vertical stand. Although I plan to
put the unit on top of my primary system, the vertical stand would be
useful to minimize the amount of space needed for those
who keep the unit on their desks.
In addition to the expected USB cable, the Antec MX-1 comes with an
external SATA (eSATA) cable and a cliff-hanger eSATA bracket. That
bracket installs in place of an expansion slot cover and provides an
externally-accessible eSATA port. Internally, it provides a standard
SATA cable that you can connect to an available motherboard SATA port.
That's a very nice touch, allowing people whose computers don't provide
an eSATA port (which is to say most of them) with the ability to use
the faster eSATA instead of USB. At some point, I'll probably install
the bracket, but for now I decided just to use USB 2.0.
When I first turned the drive on, I thought it wasn't running. The
Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 500 GB drive I used is a very quiet drive, but
it's not inaudible, particularly when it seeks. The MX-1 has a drive
activity indicator, a blue LED, but that LED is visible only if the
chassis is above eye level. I had the enclosure sitting on my desk, and
at first I thought the unit didn't have power. When I picked it up to
check the connections, I could feel the slight vibration of the running
drive and I saw that the LED was lit. This is one very quiet external
As to durability and reliability, the only way to find out is to use
the enclosure day-in-day-out for a few weeks or months. Time will tell.
Hmmm. Netflix started throttling me yesterday, exactly three weeks
after I rejoined. I got an email early yesterday morning from Netflix,
confirming that they'd received a disc I sent back on Saturday. My
queue reported that they expected to ship my next disc that day. When I
checked my queue mid-afternoon yesterday to see what disc they were
going to send me, the status had changed to indicate that they expected
to ship my next disc Tuesday, today.
Still, I can't complain too much. In those three weeks, they've shipped
me 16 discs, of which one was bad and had to be replaced for a net of
15 discs. I sent back two more discs yesterday, which should arrive at
Netflix today and have the replacements shipped today as well.
If Netflix starts throttling me too harshly, I retaliate. Ordinarily, I
ship back two discs in the same envelope whenever possible, because
that costs them the same in pre-paid postage as it does if I ship only
one disc in an envelope. Return shipping is a very large part of their
costs, so halving that postage cost where possible directly improves
their bottom line. If they throttle me, I start sending back each disc
in its own envelope.
I think they notice, too, because in the past when I started sending
one disc per envelope, they quickly stopped throttling me and I went
back to returning two discs per envelope where possible. I'll let them
get away with the one late disc from yesterday, but if they don't ship
out all three replacement discs today, I'll return those discs
individually. It usually doesn't take more than one series of that
before they stop throttling. If they play nice, I play nice.
- The journal entry that never was...
I sometimes write a journal entry and decide not to post it. I did that
the other day. I won't say anything more about it, except that it had
to do with Mary's blog post about not being able to take showers or change clothes, and it referenced the WWI soldier's song Mademoiselle from Armentières (with the original lyrics, not the Bowdlerized children's version...)
But I live in fear of Mary's Fist of Death, so I decided not to post
that entry. I did send it to Mary privately, though. Here's the
From: Robert Bruce Thompson
To: Mary Chervenak
CC: Paul Jones, Barbara Thompson
Date: Yesterday 13:46:44
Fwd: Self preservation
When I read your blog entry about
not being able to bathe and being the runner who crossed the
French/Belgian border, I just started to laugh. I told Paul that I
almost posted that information on my web page with the comment "Inky,
Dinky, Parlez Vous", but that would have been too subtle for about
99.999999% of the world's population. Maybe not too subtle for you,
though, and the Fist of Death worries me, even at 4,000 miles range.
So here's what I sent Paul last
night. I just talked to him, and he said that you might not appreciate
me posting it, but you might find it funny if I mailed it to you
So here it is.
Please don't hit me...
<offending journal entry redacted>
From: Mary Chervenak
To: Robert Bruce Thompson
CC: Paul Jones, Barbara Thompson
Date: Today 03:14:16
Re: Fwd: Self preservation
Hi Bob --
Your post made me laugh out loud -- I did get the reference, but I
don't think things have gotten quite that bad!! Our schedules have
stabilized a bit and I'm now showering with greater frequency, much to
my relief and the relief of my teammates. Thanks for sending it. No
Fist of Death today!
My team crossed from Holland into Germany last night. Weird to listen
to Dutch and an English version of Dutch all day and then wake up
hearing German. And for the first time in about 35 years, I am nearly
illiterate. It's a humbling feeling.
We're headed to the Czech Republic in a day or two, but for now, we run through Germany (and a number of Dow sites). Onward!
From: Robert Bruce Thompson
To: Mary Chervenak
CC: Paul Jones, Barbara Thompson
Date: Today 08:13:57
Re: Fwd: Self preservation
See, I *knew* you'd get it. Boy, do I have a world-class sense of self-preservation, or what?
I'm pleased that things are going
better for you and your teammates. Paul has told me about some of the
problems you all have encountered and what you've done to overcome
them. I am still stunned by the magnitude of the task you've
undertaken. You're my hero. We're all cheering for you.
For the last several days I've been exchanging email with lots of
people across three continents trying to make sure we have the
necessary permissions to use the DSS images for the astronomy book. It
gets extremely complicated because there are so many organizations
involved and because all of them have their own requirements for
permissions, as does O'Reilly.
For example, one organization just granted us permission to use the
images (to the extent they can; they're only one of the organizations
from which we need permissions for the same images) but their standard
permissions grant may not be sufficient to satisfy O'Reilly's
requirements. Why? Because they granted us permission to use the images
in the book, but O'Reilly needs more than just that permission.
O'Reilly may post the book on Safari and elsewhere, which means they
need permissions for electronic use. O'Reilly may publish
foreign-language editions, which means they need those permissions as
Brian Jepson, my editor, is doing everything he can to help, but
ultimately according to the contract we're responsible for getting all
necessary permissions. Needless to say, I'm extremely uncomfortable
with this. I'm not a copyright attorney, and I have no clue what's
needed. I'm afraid that I'll think I have all necessary permissions and
then after the book is published learn that I didn't. If that happens,
I'm stuck between the copyright owner and O'Reilly.
I do know one thing. I will never again do a book that requires any
sort of copyright permissions. I will hold the copyrights to both text
and images for anything that goes into any book I do. As far as this
book, I'm just about at the point of telling O'Reilly to pull all of
the images because I don't want to risk being responsible if it turns
out after the book is published that we don't have the necessary
- One guy's response to the Xandros deal with Microsoft. A man after my own heart.
The Blue Planet Run continues on schedule. They're updating the web
site daily now, although they're still sometimes a day or two behind.
You can follow the run on their updates page. Here's an image from the Day 13 page. Mary commented on her blog page about her running style. As she says, "I don't pick up my feet when I run," which this picture shows pretty clearly.
Mary running in Germany
That's why Mary's running style is so efficient, and also why she
falls from time to time. That's the same reason a Border
Collie can run all day long, covering literally 50 miles a day or more.
At a fast trot, which is their most efficient gait, the Border Collie's
paws barely leave the ground. Even at a dead run, at speeds approaching
those of a greyhound, a Border Collie's paws rise only a few inches
from the ground.
I have many pictures of our BCs at a dead run, and it's amazing how
efficient their gait is. Here's one of Malcolm running flat-out,
herding sheep into a pen. (He's never been trained to herd sheep; BCs
do that instinctively.)
Malcolm herding sheep
- Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols thinks that Ubuntu will be the next Linux distro to strike a deal with Microsoft.
I think he's wrong, and I think it's because he misses the point of
these deals. Microsoft is entering these deals for exactly one reason.
Not interoperability cooperation, nor any of the other red herrings
that have been floated around. Microsoft needs to be able to point to
as many Linux distributions as possible that have conceded that
Microsoft has patents that affect Linux. That way, it can use FUD to
influence the PHBs who make the decisions.
Despite its nebulous claims, Microsoft has no such patents, or none
that will hold up if they ever come to court. Microsoft cannot afford
to show its hand, because as soon as it identifies the patents in
question with specificity, one of two things is going to happen to
those patents. First, most of the patents, probably all or nearly all
of them, will be voided on the basis of obviousness and/or prior art. A
recent Supreme Court decision makes it much easier to challenge patents
on those bases, and you can bet that most of Microsoft's anti-Linux
patents would fail on those grounds. Second, if Microsoft does happen
to have a few patents that stand up--not likely but not impossible--you
can bet that OSS coders will code around those patents fast enough to
make Microsoft's collective head spin. In short, Microsoft is engaging
in a huge bluff, and it can't afford to have anyone call that bluff.
In effect, Microsoft is signing up weak Linux distros like Xandros and
Linspire to serve as shills. In essence, Microsoft is saying, "we've
shown our cards to Xandros and Linspire, and they know we have a royal
flush." (Novell and Xandros have both said that they haven't conceded
that Linux violates any Microsoft patents, but of course those claims
are lost in the noise that Microsoft is making about the deals.) In
reality, Microsoft is sitting on a 6-high bust. They know it, and we
know it. But Microsoft hopes to influence the PHBs, who don't know it.
The PHB attitude is "where there's smoke there must be fire", so
Microsoft is generating as much smoke as it can.
As to Ubuntu signing a similar deal with Microsoft, it just isn't going
to happen. Ubuntu may sign a deal with Microsoft, but if they do it
will be missing the critical patent protection clause that has so many
people upset with Novell, Xandros, and Linspire. Shuttleworth isn't
anti-Microsoft, and he might indeed sign a deal to gain access to
certain Microsoft technologies such as codecs. But you can bet that
Shuttleworth isn't going to sign off on a deal that includes patent
Despite its backing by Canonical, Ubuntu is a community distribution,
unlike SuSE, Xandros, or Linspire. If Shuttleworth signed a patent
covenant deal with Microsoft, the Ubuntu community would simply walk.
There are many other distributions that would welcome them. Ubuntu
would find itself losing nearly all of its developers overnight.
Netflix is starting to annoy me. They received a disc from me on
Monday, and they should have shipped out the replacement disc that same
day, for arrival on Tuesday. Instead, they delayed shipping that disc
until Tuesday. Instead of shipping it from a reasonably local
distribution center, they shipped it from Lansing, Michigan, with an
ETA of today. It finally got here today, three days late.
When I opened the envelope, I immediately noticed that the disc was
cracked. Not cracked in transit, mind you. It was cracked and had been
"repaired" with a glob of glue of some sort. Netflix shipped a
known-defective disc to me. I wasn't sure I even wanted to put it into
my player, but I finally decided to give it a try. The player rejected
it instantly. As soon as the tray closed, it popped back open again.
I called their toll-free number to complain, but I got tired of
listening to on-hold music and just hung up. I finally reported it
through the web site, but it's too late for them to ship a
replacement disc today. They don't operate on Saturdays, which means
the best I can hope for is that they'll ship me a replacement disc next
Monday. If they again ship it from a distant center, I may end up
having to wait until next Thursday or Friday to received it. That's
ridiculous. I should have had that disc three days ago as it is, and I
may not have it for another week. That means an effective two-week
turnaround on one of my three "unlimited" discs. You can bet I'm going
to start returning discs one-per-envelope until they straighten up.
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 by Robert Bruce