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Week of 9 August 2004

Latest Update: Saturday, 14 August 2004 15:18 -0400

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Monday, 9 August 2004

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{Five Years Ago Today]

08:44 - I now have a new primary office system. It is essential that my primary system be dead stable, and that was not the case for leibniz. I could have tried to track down the problem and resolve it, but the easier and faster method was simply to replace leibniz with another Xandros system. I pulled hypatia, which was my den system, and put it in my office to replace leibniz.

Before I shut down leibniz, I copied the contents of the .mozilla directory up to messier. When I got hypatia connected, I did a clean bare-metal install of Xandros Desktop 2.0 Business Edition on her. Firing up Mozilla for the first time created the .mozilla directory. I exited Mozilla and copied the .mozilla profile directory from messier. All my bookmarks, user settings, mail accounts, passwords, etc. transferred over just fine. I reinstalled Microsoft Office 2000, Irfanview, and a couple of other apps, and hypatia was ready to roll.

(Incidentally, in case you're wondering, Hypatia is acknowledged by most who concern themselves with such things to have been a universal genius, probably the only woman ever who has belonged in that elite group with da Vinci, Leibniz, Newton, Goethe, Swedenborg, Wittgenstein, Sidis, et alia.)

I used hypatia all day yesterday with no problems. Until yesterday evening. Early each month, Jerry Pournelle writes his new column for that month and sends off early drafts to his "kitchen cabinet" for what he calls sanity checks. I generally call up the draft of his column in Word 2000 and use the Insert-Comment function to annotate the draft.

As I was doing that last night, Word 2000 disappeared on me. I'd highlighted a part of the text, clicked Insert-Comment, and Word just instantaneously disappeared. That was very disturbing, because I really want to use Word to do chapter drafts for my O'Reilly books.

I thought about simply uninstalling Office 2000, or even Crossover Office. Then it hit me. This is not a Linux problem, or even a Crossover Office problem. This is a Word 2000 problem. It's happened to me many times in the past when I was working under Windows 2000. The Insert-Comment function of Word 2000 is simply buggy. The only reason it took me a moment to realize that is that the problem manifests differently under Linux than under Windows. Under Windows, the the app hangs up and after a second or two generates a GPF message. Under Linux, it simply disappears.

So I concluded that I can use Word 2000 under Xandros, as long as I don't attempt to use Insert-Comment. I'll have to mention that to my editor.

16:04 - Now here is something truly terrifying. Until I read this article, I wasn't aware that life-support equipment in hospitals was running Windows. Apparently, the rules changed eight years ago. Instead of running a traditional embedded OS, heath-care equipment makers were permitted to start using commercial off-the-shelf operating systems. Incredibly, many, perhaps most, of them elected to use Windows. I can't think of a worse choice.

Consider the desiderata for an OS for a life-support device. Simplicity, because reliability goes hand-in-hand with simplicity. That implies a command-line interface or character-mode GUI, because graphics-mode GUIs are crash-prone. The last thing in the world you want is an everything-including-the-kitchen-sink OS like Windows. Five nines reliability goes without saying, if not six nines. The OS should never under any circumstances crash except as a result of a hardware failure. We're talking about equipment for which a failure may cost a life, after all. Immunity from viruses, Trojans, and worms should also go without saying. Otherwise, respirators and other life-sustaining equipment may fail the next time a worm rages through the world's networks.

As though choosing Windows wasn't bad enough, apparently the equipment makers refuse to allow hospitals to apply Microsoft patches. And who can blame them? If a Microsoft patch screws things up and someone dies, it's the equipment maker who's going to be sued, not Microsoft. In fact, the Microsoft license agreement specifically relieves them from liability. If I recall correctly, at least one Microsoft EULA that I actually took the time to read through specifically stated that the software wasn't to be used for life-support equipment.

Of course, eight years ago there were fewer choices available in commercial off-the-shelf OSs. Linux wasn't sufficiently developed to serve in such a role, and for all I know it isn't sufficiently developed today. But surely one of the Unix OSs available eight years ago would have been a better choice.

What I do know is that I wouldn't want to be on a respirator running Windows XP. I can't believe anyone else would, either. I've put up a poll over on the messageboard.


Tuesday, 10 August 2004

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{Five Years Ago Today]

11:23 - It's been exactly one year since my mother died. It doesn't seem that long, although I've thought about her every day. It's a hard thing for a boy to lose his mother, even if the boy happens to be 50 years old at the time.

Still, I was more fortunate than most. From the time I moved to North Carolina in 1980 until my dad died in December 1990, I saw my parents at least a couple of times a week. After my dad died, Barbara and I made over our downstairs area into a self-contained "granny apartment" and moved my mom in with us. So, from 1990 until she fell in July 2002, I saw my mom every day. After that, she was in the hospital and then the nursing home, where I visited her every day.

The nursing home is the only part I regret. After mom fell and broke both her legs, we simply couldn't care for her at home. We knew the nursing home was the only solution, but mom of course hated being there. Barbara and I did our best to make mom as happy as possible. Every morning, I'd drive over to visit mom, and every afternoon Barbara visited her. We frequently took over deli sandwiches, pizza, and McDonalds burgers, which she loved, to give her a break from the institutional food. Barbara kept her supplied with books, and I'd tape movies for her to watch. We'd take the dogs over to visit her. All of that helped, but of course she was still miserable in the nursing home. That's my only real regret, but we did all we could.

I still miss her. I always will.

14:17 - So now SCO wants to increase its Linux license fees. That reminds me of the little girl who wasn't getting much action at her lemonade stand. She wasn't selling any lemonade at $1 per glass, so she decided to increase her price to $10. She learned a lesson at age eight that SCO apparently hasn't learned yet. If people aren't buying your product, raising your prices isn't going to increase sales.

And speaking of breathtakingly stupid SCO stuff, Rob Enderle's Keynote speech is available on-line. Buffy would say that Mr. Enderle's logic is not Earth Logic, and Buffy would be right. The man is delusional. The title of the speech tells you all you need to know, Free Software and the Idiots who Buy It.

Mr. Enderle has delusions of adequacy. Among other things, he refers to Linux as a "scam" and claims that he has "been ranked number one in influence for most of the last decade." Huh? Ranked by whom? No one whose opinion I'd take seriously. Not only is Mr. Enderle not the most influential analyst by any rational measure, he doesn't even rate a mention among those who understand anything at all. Mr. Enderle is a bad joke.

I was happy to see that Mr. Enderle has finally admitted that he is in the pay of Microsoft and that he has a "huge personal investment in SCO." Perhaps more so than he realizes. He's chained to the deck of the sinking SCO ship, and as it goes down, he goes down with it. Glug, glug, glug. I certainly won't be sorry to see him go. Mr. Enderle has spent all of his credibility. I hope SCO and Microsoft paid him well for it. Now if only Laura DiDio and Daniel Lyons would also 'fess up, I'd be content.

The Great Snake Adventure. I was getting ready to get in the shower this morning when the phone rang. It was Paula, our neighbor across the street. As soon as I answered, she said, "Are you afraid of snakes?" Uh-oh. I told her I actually liked snakes, and she asked if I'd come over to do something about the one that was curled up next to her car.

I got dressed again and headed over to Paula's carport, where I found a five-foot black snake lying mostly under her car, snuggled up against the passenger side front tire. I got a broom and encouraged the snake out from under her car. I asked Paula what she wanted me to do with it, because I certainly wasn't going to kill it.

She told me just to get it out of there, so I asked her for a container. I was actually going to just reach down and grab the snake and carry it out to her woodpile, but she was shaky enough already and I was afraid that if I grabbed the snake she'd have a heart attack, literally.

So she brought me an empty plastic 5-gallon pail. I used the broom to encourage the snake into the pail and then picked up the pail, planning to carry it out to the woodpile. The snake wasn't having any. It slithered up out of the pail and dropped back onto the pavement. Oh, well. I finally shooed it out onto the driveway and put the plastic pail inverted over top of it. I should note that with all this sweeping and pushing, the snake never once struck. It was not in the slightest aggressive.

Paula didn't want me to release the snake out in her back yard, so I told her to call Animal Control. They told her that they didn't come out unless the snake was in the house, but they gave her the name and number of a "snake man" to call. She called while I stood there and he told her he'd be out to pick up the snake. He suggested putting a concrete block on top of the pail to make sure the snake didn't get away. There wasn't one handy, so I put Paula's recycling bin on top of the pail. I didn't know how long the guy would take to get there, so I excused myself and returned home.

A while later, Paula called to thank me and say that the snake man had picked up the snake. He's going to use it at a show-and-tell session for Boy Scouts next week and then release it in the woods. Paula, to her credit, made a point of telling him she didn't want the snake to be harmed.

I've never understood why most women and many men are so afraid of snakes. Snakes are good neighbors. They eat rats and other rodents, which are a serious threat to human well-being. Very few species are aggressive, and most will do their best to avoid people. They're more afraid of people than people are of them, and with good reason. You can bet that when a terrified women sees a snake and yells, "SNAKE!", the equally terrified snake is thinking "WOMAN!".

Now, I understand why people fear poisonous snakes. In fact, if it'd been a copperhead or rattlesnake in Paula's carport, I'd have killed it with a shovel. Not that I believe in killing any snake arbitrarily, but a poisonous snake is simply too dangerous to allow to live in a residential neighborhood with so many children and pets. But non-poisonous snakes are good neighbors, even in a residential neighborhood. I'd be willing to be that we have several living on our lot, and we see one only once every several years. But I'm glad they're around.


Wednesday, 11 August 2004

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00:45 - I just finished up a quick tech edit pass on a hardware chapter from a forthcoming O'Reilly book on Linux clustering. I'm whacked, but too wired to go to sleep immediately, so I'll probably read a few chapters of the current mystery before I hit the sack.

Heads-down writing today and through the end of the month, so updates here will be sparse and infrequent.

12:53 -I just emailed Brian Jepson and Mark Brokering at O'Reilly to ask if it was okay with them if I stopped using Word 2000 to create manuscript documents and started using StarOffice 7. Brian said let's do it. He's a Linux/OOo guy anyway, so he may actually prefer using OOo/SO.

I'm changing to SO7 because Word 2000 disappeared on me one too many times. Let me be clear. Word 2000 running under Crossover Office on Xandros is probably perfectly acceptable for most people's needs. For me, it just doesn't cut it. I do heavy formatting, embedding images, and so on in my chapter documents, and Word 2000 under Xandros is simply too fragile under those conditions.

I don't regret it a bit. I'd have converted to OOo/SO long ago except that O'Reilly is set up to use Word 2000 documents as input. If they can handle OOo/SO formatted documents, I'm more than happy to use them.

Yet another Microsoft program bites the dust around here. Before long, I'm going to be Microsoft-free. Not that that's really a serious goal, but it does seem to be the result. July 4th was Independence Day for me, not in the sense that I stopped using all Microsoft software, but in the sense that I no longer needed it to earn my living.

Soon enough, I'll have Windows running only on test-bed systems that I use to capture screen shots for my books, and perhaps on a supplemental system or two for gaming, DVR testing, and so on. Before long, I'll have a Linux server as well. I'm sure I'll encounter problems and aggravations, but they're unlikely to be any worse than dealing with Microsoft's virus/Trojan/worm of the day, not to mention the patch of the week.

I can live with Xandros quite happily.


Thursday, 12 August 2004

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{Five Years Ago Today]

08:40 - Someone emailed me to ask what antivirus software I'm running now that I've converted to Linux. The answer is: none. As far as I know, there's only one Linux virus in the wild. It's called the Honor virus. Like most Windows/Outlook viruses, it arrives via an infected email. I was able to track down a copy, which I reproduce below:

Dear Linux user,

Here is your copy of the Linux Honor virus. Because this
virus is for Linux, it requires your cooperation and works
only on the honor system. Please follow these instructions:

1: Forward this email to everyone in your address book
2: Become root
3: type: cd / and press <Enter>
4: type: rm -Rf * and press <Enter>

Congratulations! You are now a victim of the Linux honor virus.



Friday, 13 August 2004

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{Five Years Ago Today]

09:46 - Friday the 13th falls on a Friday this month...

Hurricanes Bonnie and Clyde are the major weather makers around here this week. Yesterday, the leading edge of Bonnie dropped lots of rain here. We no longer have a rain gauge, but I'm estimating we had at least 4" (10 cm) of rain yesterday afternoon. There's to be more tonight and then more again tomorrow as Clyde passes. Overall, we're likely to get two or three months' worth of rainfall in two or three days.

During a break in the rain, we met our friends Paul Jones and Mary Chervenak for dinner at the Chinese place last night. They've been on the run for the last month or so. Ten days in Europe, followed by a visit from Paul's mom, followed by business trips for both of them. They were planning to leave yesterday for a long weekend in the Great Smoky Mountains, but the weather forecasts dissuaded them.

Bonnie and Clyde have also wiped out our observing plans for this new-moon weekend. The forecasts had been for clear weather until the hurricanes showed up. Oh, well.

Here's an interesting article that talks about something that should have been obvious to me but wasn't. Even though I have little virtual desktop buttons right down there on my taskbar, I'd never thought about using them. I guess it's my Windows-centric way of thinking.

As I use Xandros Desktop Linux more, I like it more. Sometimes there are nasty little surprises--things I could do easily with Windows that I either can't do with Linux or that are more awkward or time-consuming. But there are also a lot of things I can do with Xandros that I couldn't do with Windows, and on balance the latter outweigh the former.

Some of the annoyances are doubtlessly just ignorance on my part. As I learn more, I'll learn to make things work the way I want or at least develop easy workarounds. Some of them are a just a matter of the software I need not being here yet. For example, before I migrate Barbara to Xandros, I need to give her the ability to sync her Sony PDA.

There are any number of ways to do that. I could install Evolution for her. I don't want to do that, because she's used to Mozilla Mail, but I suppose I could configure Evolution to function just as a PIM. Or I could use Korganizer, which Xandros installs by default. My problem with Korganizer is two-fold. First, it's ugly, and I mean UGLY. Second, it's feature-poor. It doesn't even allow you to specify Monday as the start of the week.

What I really want to use is Mozilla Calendar, but it doesn't yet support PDA synching, and may never do so. (Development on Calendar is apparently at a standstill, or nearly so.) So, although I have several alternatives, I don't really like any of them. Still, I'm making headway.

10:09 - Virtual desktops are even more powerful than I thought. See this thread.


Saturday, 14 August 2004

15:18 - This from Bob Sprowl...

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: The Pope
Date: Sat, 14 Aug 2004 14:40:48 -0400
From: Bob Sprowl

On a tour of Texas, the Pope took a couple of days off to visit the coastal area for some sightseeing. He was cruising along the sea wall on Galveston Isle in his Pope mobile when suddenly he notices a frantic commotion just off shore.

There was John Kerry struggling frantically to free himself from the jaws of a 25-foot shark. As the Pope watched, horrified, a speedboat came racing up with two men aboard. One of the men, President George W. Bush quickly fired a harpoon into the shark's side while Dick Cheney reached out and pulled the bleeding, semi-conscious John Kerry from the water. Then using (autographed Round Rock Express) baseball bats, the two heroes beat the shark to death and hauled it into the boat.  Immediately the Pope shouted and summoned them to the beach. "I give you my blessings for your brave actions," he told them. "I heard that there was some bitter hatred between President Bush and John Kerry, but now I have seen with my own eyes that this is not true."

As the Pope drove off, President Bush asked Dick "Who was that?" "It was the Pope," Dick replied. "He is in direct contact with God and has all of God's wisdom."

"Well," President Bush said, "he may have access to God's wisdom, but he doesn't know squat about shark fishing................how's the bait holding up?"


Sunday, 15 August 2004

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{Five Years Ago Today]



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