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Week of 3 November 2003

Latest Update : Monday, 17 November 2003 10:42 -0500

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Monday, 3 November 2003

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9:16 - As I announced last week, I'm on semi-hiatus, so the posts here will tend to be sporadic and short.

Congratulations to Brian and Marcia Bilbrey, who have just moved into their new home. Apparently, Brian worked so hard moving out and moving in that Marcia had to store him overnight leaning against a wall, where he slept soundly if rigidly.

If you have clear skies this Saturday evening and Sunday morning, don't miss the Lunar Eclipse. It will be visible, at least in part, to most of my readers except those in the Pacific. The map on the page I linked to shows the area over which the eclipse is visible. Here are the times for the eclipse, all of which are EST (-0500) on 8 November.

  • 1715.1 - Moon enters penumbra
  • 1832.4 - Moon enters umbra
  • 2006.3 - Moon enters totality
  • 2018.5 - Middle of eclipse
  • 2030.7 - Moon leaves totality
  • 2204.5 - Moon leaves umbra
  • 2321.9 - Moon leaves penumbra

Adjust those times according to your time zone. For example, if you're in Los Angeles (-0800), Luna enters totality at 1706.3 local time. Similarly, if you're in London, Luna enters totality at 0106.3 on Sunday, 9 November local time.

How much of the eclipse you can see depends on your location. For example, here in Winston-Salem, moonrise on the 8th is at 1713 local, which means Luna will just be entering the penumbra as it rises. For those on the west coast of the US, Luna will be in totality as it rises. For those in central India and farther east, Luna will set before it reaches totality. If you're in the US, the page I linked to has a good table showing the various times for each US time zone.

You can enjoy a Lunar Eclipse naked-eye. Obviously, if you have a binocular or telescope, use it. Most astronomy clubs will have a public observation scheduled for the eclipse. You can find a list of local astronomy clubs at the Sky & Telescope web site. This one is worth getting the kids out to see.

I've come upon a bug in Mozilla Mail. I've actually encountered this bug repeatedly for the last year or so, but it's not severe so I haven't made a point of it until now.

The problem has to do with Mozilla Mail's failure to keep the read/not read flags properly set, and its occasional failure to highlight folders that contain unread mail.

Ordinarily, everything works properly. If a folder contains unread mail, Mozilla emboldens that folder name and lists the number of unread messages next to the folder name. If the unread messages are contained in a subfolder that is not visible because that portion of the tree is not expanded, Mozilla Mail emboldens the visible parent folder and lists the number of unread messages in subfolders that are not visible.

But sometimes things don't work properly. There are two problems.

First, Mozilla Mail sometimes marks as unread messages that have been read. This occurs only in folders with low activity, such as archive folders. Once in a while, I'll click on one of those folders, which is showing no unread messages. Mozilla Mail displays a progress bar along the bottom of the window as it rebuilds the index. When that process completes, which can take half a minute for a large folder, Mozilla Mail displays some number of unread messages in the folder.

For example, I just clicked on my Dorthory-L archive folder. Dorothy-L is a mailing list devoted to mysteries, and generates a fair amount of traffic. The progress bar appeared as Mozilla rebuilt the index. When it completed, I saw that that folder contained 29,313 messages, of which 4,235 were marked unread. What is particularly interesting is that all of the messages that Mozilla marked as unread were dated 9/5/2002 or earlier. Some messages dated 9/5/2002 are marked read and others unread, and there is no exact cut-off. That is, the most recent message that Mozilla Mail incorrectly flagged as unread is date/timestamped 9/5/2002 at 6:39 p.m., while the earliest message correctly marked read is date/timestamped 9/5/2002 at 6:23 a.m. Interestingly, most of the "unusual" messages are from one sender, so it may be an issue with sent versus received time and her clock/calendar may have been off.

What's interesting is that the same thing happens in many other folders, and the cut-off date is always 9/5/2002. Not every folder has enough messages to be certain that it's exactly 9/5/2002, but any message dated 9/4/2002 or earlier is incorrectly marked unread, any message dated 9/6/2002 or later is correctly marked read, and any message dated exactly 9/5/2002 may or may not be marked as read. Obviously, something happened on 9/5/2002. I checked my journal page for that date. We'd just gotten back from a trip up to Washington, DC and had had the systems turned off, but I didn't see anything that could explain this problem. But something must have happened. I'm going through manually marking all the messages as read and they'll be okay until the next time this happens. When it does, messages prior to 9/5/2002 will again be marked as unread. Very strange.

The second problem is actually something I haven't encountered recently, so perhaps it was fixed in an earlier rev of Mozilla Mail. In the past, Mozilla Mail would sometimes fail to mark a folder as containing unread messages when it did. For example, I have filters set up to move mailing list traffic to specific folders. Usually, that works fine and when new mailing list traffic arrives the folder that contains it is highlighted. But in the past that sometimes didn't work, so I found myself going through my folder tree, clicking on each one to make sure it didn't contain new mail. As I said, this hasn't happened for a long time, so perhaps they fixed that bug. But it does seem related to the other problem.

11:22 - Thanks to subscriber Roy Harvey for pointing out

Obviously, something happened on 9/5/2002.

From Friday, 6 September 2002:

I finally bagged Outlook 2000 yesterday.

Urk. There *is* that...

I actually did go back and look at my journal page for 5 September, but I never thought to look at 6 September. Obviously, there's something a bit strange about the imported messages that causes their read flags to be set to unread periodically. Oh, well. I can live with that. I'm not losing any data.

Thanks for noticing.

11:37 - I just sent the following to subscribers:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: [RBT] Microsoft patches their patched patches
Date: Mon, 03 Nov 2003 11:34:47 -0500
From: Robert Bruce Thompson
To: Subscribers

For years, the conventional wisdom has been that one can't trust Microsoft software until version 3.0, and that apparently is true for their security patches as well.

The middle of last month, with much fanfare, Microsoft went to their new scheme of releasing patches in batches once a month. A week or so later, they released batches of patches to those batches of patches. Now, they're releasing batches of patches to the batches of patches to the batches of patches.

For details, see:


These batches and batches of patched patched patches are critical, so don't ignore them. And, the way things are going, look for batches and batches of patched patched patched patches sometime next week.




Tuesday, 4 November 2003

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10:24 - I'm in acquisition mode, trying to get eval samples for the new book. That means I'm on the phone and exchanging email constantly with hardware vendors. One of the problems is that, although I want new stuff that isn't public yet, I refuse to sign NDAs as a matter of policy. Most of the vendors I've dealt with over the years trust me not to talk about stuff before the embargo date, but some of them seem a bit more sensitive about things than they have in the past. The rest of this week will be a continued flurry of phone calls and emails as I try to get everything I need lined up.

I also need to start cleaning up and organizing my work space in anticipation of FedEx, Airborne, and UPS showing up with boxes and boxes of stuff. It's so embarrassing to lose stuff. I once misplaced what was at the time a $1,000 processor. I found it later, but for a time I thought I was going to have to go back to the maker and confess that I'd misplaced it. It's not just processors, either. I've misplaced full-tower cases. "Where is that elephant? I know I left it around here somewhere..."

We have some friends from California visiting us over Thanksgiving. Note to self: Must remember to leave room for them to sleep.

One of the things I've learned in the last day or so is that Mozilla's Calendar module is totally inadequate for what I'm doing right now. Instead, I'm back to using Outlook 2000, but only for PIM functions. I'm still using Mozilla for mail, although I really, really wish its calendar was even close to Outlook's. It would be very nice to have the integration between email, tasks, and appointments that Outlook has. Mozilla Mail is quite usable, and in fact is superior to Outlook mail in many respects. But the absence of integrated PIM functions really becomes noticeable at a time like this.

12:09 - I think we're going to see some big-time Linux stuff coming out of Utah, and I'm not talking about SCO. It looks to me as though Novell is positioning itself to jump into Linux with both feet. First, Novell buys Ximian. That gives them one of the premier Linux desktop solutions, including the well-regarded Evolution PIM, which is a clone of Outlook. Not to mention the Ximian Desktop Connector, which allows Evo to connect to Exchange Server as a full-function client, and the Red Carpet automatic updater, which does for Linux what Windows Update is supposed to do for Windows. Second, Novell buys SuSE, which gives them one of the two leading Linux distributions. In conjunction with Novell's other "plumbing" software, such as Novell Directory Services, that gives Novell all the building blocks they need to present a serious Linux solution that's integrated all the way from the desktop back to the server room. It may take Novell a while to combine all those disparate building blocks into an integrated whole, but when they do it'll be worth serious consideration. It wouldn't surprise me to see Novell provide financial and other support to some of the other key Linux applications like OpenOffice.org and Mozilla. I think what we're seeing is the first steps of Novell re-designing itself as a company, this time around Linux.

15:20 - Hmmmm. The Geek Test. I won't tell you how I did, but the screen capture below should give you some idea...

geektest.jpg (84495 bytes)




Wednesday, 5 November 2003

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00:17 - I know Barbara reads my journal page, and I knew she'd notice my comments about cleaning up my work areas. Sure enough, she did, and she commented on it last night. I told her that I only put that in there for her, and that I really didn't intend to clean up my work areas. She walked into my workroom, shown below, and said, "You really do need to clean this place up."

rbt-workroom.jpg (351230 bytes)

At which point I again proved that, despite 20 years of marriage, I can still "get" her. I simply replied, "Well, it wouldn't be nearly as bad if you'd stop piling all your junk in here." That had roughly the same effect on Barbara that pressing the "fire" button has on a Patriot interceptor missile. Heh, heh, heh.

She demanded to know what junk. And I pointed to the messy pile of stuff she'd left on top of one of my cases, shown below.

rbt-workroom-detail.jpg (7048 bytes)

So, in fairness, I'm going to run a poll over on the messageboard on whose fault it is my workroom is messy. I will abide by my readers' decision. I was about to say that Barbara and I would abide, but I'm not sure she would.

12:56 - Several people wanted to know how I really did on the Geek Test. I scored over 50%, and within a couple percentage points of making their top-ten list. I don't remember the exact number.

Barbara's early birthday present arrived yesterday. It's an Olympus C-5000 Zoom. I knew it was going to be smaller than it looked like in the photographs, but as it turns out it's even smaller than I expected. I can cover it with my palm. It uses a tiny Lithium-ion battery, which the bundled recharger recharges in about two hours. The xD-Picture Card is also a lot smaller than I expected. I thought SmartMedia cards were small. They're about the size of a large postage stamp and not all that much thicker. But the xD-Picture Card is really tiny. Two of them might cover a small postage stamp.

The maximum resolution is 2,560X1,920, or exactly four times the areal resolution of the Olympus D-400Z I had been using. The camera comes with a 32 MB xD-Picture Card. At maximum resolution, it can store two TIFF (uncompressed) images, eight images with minimal JPEG compression, or 26 images with moderate JPEG compression. I haven't had a chance to play around with the various options yet, but this camera has more bells and whistles than anyone needs. I'll retire the D-400Z to knock-around use, shooting images for the web, and so on.

Barbara has already graciously agreed to allow me to use her camera to shoot illustrations for the book. I talked to the graphics guy at O'Reilly and asked him what format I should submit book illustration shots in. We agreed that 2,560X1,920 was more than enough pixels, but he wants to look at samples of the various compression levels. I seriously doubt that O'Reilly wants me shipping 16 MB image files to them, so it'll probably come down to a choice between minimal and moderate JPEG compression.

I thought about shooting some samples using a $20 bill as a target, but perhaps that would get the new Secret Service department of the Heimatsicherheitshauptamt angry with me. I'm not sure what the rules are for photographing currency any more. It used to be that you were allowed to do it if the reproduction was less than half life size or greater than twice life size (or something like that), but that's pretty meaningless on the web. Unfortunately, a $20 bill makes an excellent test target because of the fine engraving. I'm not sure what else I have around that would serve as well.

This from Bo Leuf on Microsoft patches:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: [RBT] Microsoft patches their patched patches
Date: Tue, 4 Nov 2003 09:09:30 -0000 (UTC)
From: Bo Leuf
To: Robert Bruce Thompson
CC: Jerry Pournelle

I'm attending the RSA Security conference in Amsterdam this week, and this morning I just witnessed a MS presentation of some of their new security strategies, with sundry demos and PR-spun pronouncements. Slick and polished as could be expected, with a great show of giving us exclusive preview live demos (Rights Management Services, NGSCB technology to block trojan keylogging and screen scraping, and so on).

A number of interesting points were made about MS security patches and future directions, not least that we will be "seeing" far fewer patches from MS. One of the more intriguing implied reasons is that MS is actively developing a "community consensus" with enterprise that public vulnerability and patch disclosures concerning platform and app software are a bad thing, as are "unscheduled" patch releases.

The gist of the new MS stance on security patches is that enterprise customers are encouraged to enter into NDAs with MS, so that discovered vulnerabilities are reported and patches are developed interactively in strict confidence, not published. The second aspect is a new kind of patch deployment where encrypted deltas incorporating the fixes are dispatched over the MS update servers only to systems subscribing to such services. The ostensible point of the secrecy is to prevent hackers from using published vulnerability information, and from inspecting openly available patches to reverse-engineer exploits. A side effect is of course to lessen FUD impact about discovered vulnerabilities -- need-to-know and all that.

A throwaway assertion made in the midst of all this was "...we know that the Microsoft platform has far fewer patches than any other platform...." (!!)

A number of statistic-based slides were shown "demonstrating" that the number of MS patches issued for select software (IIS and SQLserver) has fallen drastically in the past 10 months or so, compared to a preceding period, showing that MS is now much better and more proactive in adressing vulnerabilities proactively.

We were also informed that future versions of Windows are likely to incorporate security components that will inspect the user system on startup (or as running background process?) and totally block Internet access unless specified security features and updates are present and active. Not clear if connection to some form of Windows Update would still be allowed, for example to determine the current set of safe criteria. By mid 2004, MS plans on having "Microsoft Update" service running, which will be for MS apps what Windows Update is for the platform, to automate security patching. For enterprise, MS plans on allowing company admins to set policies on how automatic updates are deployed. For the rest of us... who knows.

Also implied in the presentation was that the future will see a more integrated hardware-software way of shielding users from exploits. I suppose this alludes to the intimate MS-HP cooperation in developing next- generation MS-Windows-compliant hardware.

/ Bo




Thursday, 6 November 2003

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9:56 - The FCC has approved the so-called broadcast flag. c|net, which should know better, began their article, "The Federal Communications Commission took a historic step this week toward limiting piracy of digital television signals". (emphasis mine) I've made the point before, but it bears repeating. There's no "piracy" involved here. If c|net had any journalistic integrity, they would instead have said, "The Federal Communications Commission took a historic step this week toward limiting copyright infringement of digital television signals".

But that misses the point anyway. What the FCC did was limit our Fair Use rights, a trend that is becoming distressingly more common. All the FCC action accomplishes is making it more difficult and costly for normal people to do normal things. As of mid-2005, it will be illegal to sell AV or computer components that permit unrestricted recording of TV programs. Want to record a TV program in the den and watch it in the bedroom? You're out of luck, because the program you recorded in the den can only be played back on the den system. Forgot to record the latest CSI and want to borrow the tape from a co-worker who did remember to record it? No dice. Her tape won't play on your machine. Want to fast-forward through commercials? Tough luck. Your new recorder won't let you unless the copyright owner grants explicit permission. And that's real likely, isn't it? And what happens when your recorder dies? You can forget about watching all the tapes in your library, because the only machine that can play them is now dead.

In one sense, none of this really matters to me. I don't care about TV at all. With Buffy the Vampire Slayer cancelled, there's nothing on TV that I'd go to any trouble to watch. And "go to any trouble" includes simply turning on the TV. In fact, if it weren't for Barbara there wouldn't be a TV in the house. Oh, I might keep one around, stored in the closet with a set of rabbit ears just in case of national disaster or something, but it probably wouldn't be turned on from one year to the next. If I want local news, there's the newspaper. If I want current weather, there's the Internet.

There's absolutely nothing on TV that I consider sufficiently worthwhile to justify having a TV, let alone paying cable bills every month. In fact, when Barbara goes on bus tours with her parents, the TV is almost never turned on the whole time she's gone. When she went on a three-week tour a couple of years ago, the TV remained off for the entire three weeks.

At some point, the changes in TV technology and FCC rules are going to make our current 4:3 analog televisions unusable. When that happens, Barbara and I will have to talk about whether to make the jump to 16:9 digital television, or simply to opt out of television entirely. I know which I'll favor.

I'm still in acquisitions mode, but today I'm also starting to write. Once I start heads-down writing, things really will get pretty sparse around here. Honest.

15:24 - It now seems clear from the medical evidence that Jessica Lynch was vaginally and anally raped by her Iraqi captors. Whether she was raped before or after her legs were broken, or both, is uncertain. Blessedly, the young woman is unable to remember the event. But that's all the more reason for the rest of us never to forget it.

Jerry Pournelle says, "It's as well for every male Iraqi alive within 50 miles of that city that I am not in command of the US Army just now", to which I can add only that the Iraqis would consider themselves fortunate indeed to have Jerry in charge if the alternative were to have me in charge. 

Islam must be destroyed. Not "radical Islam". Not "Islamic terrorists". But Islam itself must be destroyed. Eradicated. Wiped out. Eliminated. We are at war with Islam. It is time for our leaders to admit that and to prosecute that war to the fullest of our ability.


Friday, 7 November 2003

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9:53 - Heads-down writing today, with breaks interspersed for talking to component makers. Not much else to report.



Saturday, 8 November 2003

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Sunday, 9 November 2003

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11:17 - Barbara and I went out to SciWorks last night for the public observation of the Lunar eclipse. Both the weather and the attendance were better than I thought they might be. The forecasts were mixed, but most included some mention of clouds. As it turned out, we had clear weather all evening. I think perhaps 400 or so people attended the session, which surprised me. A Lunar eclipse is easy enough to view from one's own back yard, naked eye or with a binocular. Still, many people apparently wanted to view it through a telescope.

The eclipse itself was perfect, albeit short. Barbara and I got there about 5:15 p.m. and started setting up. Technically, the eclipse was starting right about then, although in the early stages only the penumbra shades Luna, which is invisible to the naked eye. Just after 6:30, the umbral portion of the eclipse started, as the denser umbral shadow began encroaching on Luna. It was interesting to watch Terra's umbra gradually eat a larger and larger chunk of Luna. 

Totality arrived at 8:06 p.m. During totality, Luna appeared as a relatively bright reddish-brown disc. It was during totality that we had the largest crowd, probably 200+ people waiting in line to look through the ten or so scopes we had set up. Totality ended about 8:30, and people began drifting away. By 9:30 or so, there were only a few people left, so Barbara and I packed up and returned home to the joyful barking of our dogs.

Neither Barbara nor I particularly enjoys attending these public observations. We do it to support the public outreach functions of Forsyth Astronomical Society and SciWorks, but we really prefer private observing sessions with our group of observing buddies. It's usually no great sacrifice to attend one of the public observations, because most are scheduled when Luna is up. Barbara and I are both deep-sky observers, which means we can't do much observing with Luna lighting up the sky. 

The only public observation we've missed recently was the Mars session at SciWorks back in August. Unfortunately, the guy who runs the public observations for SciWorks had schedule conflicts and ended up scheduling the public observation for a new moon weekend. We, and most of our observing buddies, were out of town at a dark-sky site for that one. As a result, FAS was very short-staffed. A lot of people showed up at SciWorks to see Mars, and the waiting lines at the scopes were quite long. If they'd held the event the previous or next weekend, there'd have been eight more of us there with scopes to help. Ah, well.

I'm actually making a start on cleaning up my work room. The good news is that I found nearly a terabyte of hard drives I'd forgotten I had, along with a DVD writer and an Ultra-160 SCSI host adapter. I wonder what else I'll find.



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