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Week of -4 January 2005

Latest Update: Saturday, 1 January 2005 13:43 -0500

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Monday, -4 January 2005

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10:40 - We're starting the New Year a bit early around here, because I don't want one of my weekly journal pages to span 2004 and 2005. I just don't get it. I proposed a perfectly reasonable replacement calendar, 13 months of 28 days each with intercalendary days as required, and my proposal was met with resounding silence. Some physics professor no one has ever heard of proposed a replacement calendar inferior to mine, and I read about it in the morning paper. Oh, well.

I'm getting weary of the machinations of the RIAA and MPAA. Just last week, the MPAA succeeded in shutting down suprnova.org, a BitTorrent site. This despite the fact that suprnova.org had done nothing wrong. Suprnova.org had posted no copyrighted material for download, nor was it a party to any copyright infringements that occurred. The MPAA argued that suprnova.org "facilitated" copyright infringement, but that is a specious argument. One could make exactly the same argument for shutting down local libraries, which "facilitate" copyright infringement by lending books, CDs, and DVDs.

To state the obvious, telling someone how to do something is not the same thing as doing it, nor does pointing someone to another location constitute wrongdoing. That's true whether or not you suspect or even know that person's intentions. Think about it. Someone stops you on the street and asks you for directions to the nearest bank branch. Using your directions, that person finds the bank, which he robs. Are you guilty of bank robbery? Of course not. Even if you suspected that the person to whom you gave directions intended to rob the bank, you yourself would not be guilty of bank robbery. And yet, if such abominable laws as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act were extended to cover bank robbery, you would be culpable.

Let's go further. Let's assume that you write a book, Bank Robbery for Imbeciles. In it, you detail how to rob banks without getting caught. A typical bank robber, being from the left side of the bell curve, usually walks into a bank and demands money. He's nearly always caught, either at the scene, fleeing the scene, or shortly afterwards because he can't keep his mouth shut. But there are many things a bank robber could do to increase the probability of avoiding capture. Pournelle and Niven listed a couple in Lucifer's Hammer. I can think of a dozen more off the top of my head, as I'm sure they could have. So you explain all of this to your readers (keeping it at a 4th grade reading level, which matches your target market.) You list sources for masks, handguns, and everything else a would-be bank robber might need. You include a couple of templates to help them create their own hold-up note, emphasizing good penmanship or, better, a laser printer. (A bank robber doesn't want the teller to think his note reads, "I have a gub.")

Your book sells tens of thousands of copies. Bank robbery becomes the new fad, and many bank robbers are now getting away with it. Are you guilty of bank robbery? Nope. You didn't rob any banks. You're guilty of nothing except exercising your First Amendment rights. And that is exactly what suprnova.org and similar sites are guilty of, and nothing else. And yet, they've been shut down, not because they did anything wrong, but because they couldn't afford to fight the MPAA behemoth.

The MPAA trumpeted this "victory" over suprnova.org as the beginning of the end for BitTorrent. It isn't, of course. It's no harder now to find a torrent for whatever you wish to download than it was before suprnova.org was shut down. The Internet regards censorship as damage and routes around it. Each time the MPAA or RIAA cuts one head off the hydra, two more spring up elsewhere.

I wish some brave politician would step up and tell the RIAA and MPAA that recorded music and films are not copyrightable. Period. There is no Constitutional authority for Congress to provide copyright protection except to "Authors" and their "Writings". That excludes music, films, and binary software, although software source code certainly falls within the category of protectable "Writings". In the absence of a Constitutional Amendment, any copyright law that protects recorded music, films, or binary software is prima facie unConstitutional and void.

Interestingly, strict construction of the copyright provision would protect GPL software, which is supplied with source code, but not commercial software, almost none of which is supplied with source code. Nor is the traditional workaround acceptable, in which a commercial software vendor supplies only the first and last 20 pages of source code when applying for a copyright. A key aspect of copyright is that only that which has been revealed can be protected. When I copyright one of my books, I (or my publisher) am required to submit two copies of the entire book to the Library of Congress. Not just the first and last 20 pages.

Nor should software be patentable. Those who argued against software patents have been proven right in spades. Even the strongest proponents of software patents, such as Microsoft, are learning by hard experience that software patents are very much a two-edged sword. Defending against and eventually settling the Eolas patent claims cost Microsoft close to a billion dollars, and that was just one of the many thousands of patents that Microsoft software potentially infringes. If Microsoft continues to push its patent campaign against open source software, they're likely to find themselves defending patent claims by IBM and Novell that might total in the tens of billions of dollars.

I don't expect Microsoft to back down completely, though, because patents are about the last arrow in their quiver. Desktop Linux really arrived in 2004, and in 2005 it will continue nibbling at Windows' market share. I expect to see many high-profile "wins" for desktop Linux in 2005, along with the continuing large-scale desktop Linux deployments already announced. Linux is already eating Microsoft's lunch in server space, but that's not where Microsoft makes its money. Windows and Office provide the vast bulk of Microsoft's revenue and profits, and both are under attack. Microsoft has to do something to stem the tide, and I don't know what they can do except launch a patent offensive.

I suspect Microsoft will bide its time, waiting for the outcome of the SCO lawsuit. If the court grants IBM's motion to dismiss, the SCO case is effectively over, and I'd expect Microsoft to come out swinging sooner rather than later. If the court allows the SCO suit to proceed, Microsoft may well wait for the outcome of that case before they begin a higher-profile, higher-risk direct attack on Linux.

No matter what happens, it's likely to be an interesting year.

15:55 - One of my subscribers emailed me a copy of yet another phishing scam he'd received, this one purporting to be from eBay. Phishing scams are becoming more sophisticated. In the early days, they were often marginally literate and provided other clues that should have warned anyone they were scams. Nowadays, that's no longer true. Many phishing scams so closely resemble actual email from the companies being spoofed that it's impossible to tell just by looking at them that they are fakes.

It's become so bad that I no longer bother to read any email that purports to have been sent by oft-victimized companies like PayPal and eBay. I don't even attempt to verify such emails. Instead, if I receive a convincing-looking email from a company with whom I have an account, I simply visit that company's web site by manually typing its address into my browser. If there really is a problem, they'd better have it posted on their front page, or I'll never know about it.

Most of my readers do the same, I suspect. But it's worth taking the time to tell our less Internet-savvy family and friends that any such message should be treated with extreme suspicion, and that any link in such a message should be considered bogus. Phishing stops working if everyone ignores all suspect email.


Tuesday, -3 January 2005

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10:27 - I'll get some writing done this week, although I'll also be spending a lot of time on year-end administrative stuff like pulling year-end archive backups. Also Barbara is starting her deep clean this week, which means it's time for my biennial office cleaning.

I don't make New Year's resolutions, although I do have some plans for the coming year. In addition to revising current books and writing new ones, I want to complete our migration to Linux for all of our production systems, including servers. Windows will be exiled to the test-bed ghetto, where I'll use it only for product testing, shooting screen captures, and so on. I'd also like to drop our cable television service and our telephone service, replacing both with IP-based substitutes, although that may have to wait until 2006. This coming year will also be the Year of the Quiet PC around here. I plan to upgrade or replace all of our current systems with ones that are as quiet as possible. Every new system I build, with the possible exception of some budget test-bed systems, will be designed and built to be inaudible, or nearly so.

2005 may also be the Year of AMD, at least around here. How things change in a year. A year or so ago, AMD was on the ropes, hemorrhaging cash, and it looked as though they might not survive. Then two things happened. First, the Intel Prescott Pentium 4 failed to live up to expectations, to put it kindly. Instead of merely doing a die shrink on Northwood, which would have given them a cool-running processor with lots of clock speed headroom, Intel re-architected the Northwood core and ended up with a new core that was slower than the old core and generated a lot more heat. Tastes terrible, more filling.

That might not have mattered so much had not AMD surprised nearly everyone, including me, by flawlessly executing their Athlon 64 rollout last summer and then the fall transition to their 90 nm parts. So, in 2004, Intel did nearly everything wrong and AMD did nearly everything right. Not that Intel is in any danger of failing. Intel has so many resources that it can afford mistakes that would put AMD in Chapter 11, and the Pentium 4 is still a first-rate processor. But, as a result of their stumble and AMD's nearly perfect execution, Intel now faces AMD on a level playing field. Only AMD's limited production capacity will restrict it to 30% or so market share. If AMD had the fabs, Intel would be in much deeper trouble. As it is, AMD won't be able to meet demand. The upside of that is that their average selling price will remain high and they will profit handsomely.

At least that's true for the next 18 months or so. At that point, Intel and AMD will both be introducing new processor families and my guess is that the momentum will again swing to Intel. In the interim, though, the processor market won't change much. This year will be the first in living memory that Intel won't increase clock speeds. They'll enter and depart 2005 with the Pentium 4 running at 3.8 GHz. It's not that Intel doesn't want to ship faster processors. It's that they can't. They've simply run out of headroom. The 3.8 GHz processor already generates so much heat that it's simply not feasible to run it faster. Although AMD could introduce much faster Athlon 64s--their 90 nm process leaves them considerable headroom--I don't expect them to do more than bump their speeds one or two levels in 2005. Why would they? Their fastest processors are already faster than Intel's fastest, so shipping still faster Athlon 64 processors would just leave money on the table.

I'm also thinking about shifting to blogging software in 2005. Don't worry, though. If I do that, I'd maintain the weekly format of this journal, including the most-recent-last layout. Roland Dobbins has been encouraging Jerry Pournelle and me to look at blogging software, not because he wants to see our journals turn into the most-recent-first-linkfest messes typical of many blogs, but because he wants us to provide RSS feeds. Jerry and I are both unfamiliar with RSS and told Roland so. He sent the following, which is helpful.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: Adding a full RSS feed for a) the daily postings and b) the mail.
Date: Mon, 27 Dec 2004 15:01:27 -0800
From: Roland Dobbins
To: Jerry Pournelle
CC: Robert Bruce Thompson, Brian Bilbrey, Greg Lincoln

Capsule explanation of RSS:


Windows-based RSS newsreader:


Linux-based RSS newsreader:


OS/X-based RSS newsreader (this is what I use):


Once that's loaded, here're Yahoo's RSS newsfeeds:


Here's the Washington Times:




Washington Post:


and so forth.

I know you two would show up in the top 100 most-read weblog stats:


Which is generous, but probably optimistic. Jerry would need to nearly double his page-read and visitor counts to qualify as an "A-list" blogger. I'd have to quadruple or quintuple mine. I don't doubt that having an RSS feed would increase readership for both of us, but I wonder if it could actually double Jerry's readership, let alone quintuple mine.


Wednesday, -2 January 2005

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09:19 - Barbara is taking tomorrow and Friday off to start her deep clean, so there may not be much posted here until next week. We'll be cleaning my office, which means taking down the network and disassembling all the computers to clean them as well. I may take that opportunity to upgrade the fans and CPU coolers in some of the systems to quiet them down. Since everything will be disconnected, I'll also rejigger the power cabling to route everything in my office to one of the Falcon Electric UPSs.

I'd thought about pulling the hard drive from messier--which until July was my primary Windows 2000 desktop system and is now functioning as an ad hoc file server--installing Xandros on it, and turning it into a serious server. I think I'll wait, though. A company whose name I can't mention is about to go into beta with a Linux server distro that will be similar in functionality to Microsoft Small Business Server. Rather than build a server around Xandros Desktop Linux, I think I'll hold off until that distro is available.

In the interim, I may just move all the data from messier to hypatia (my primary Xandros Desktop box) and set up hypatia as a temporary server. I could then strip messier down to bare metal and donate it to Senior Services. Messier is a Pentium 4 box with 512 MB of memory, SCSI, and a DDS-3 tape drive, so it could function as a decent desktop system or small server for them. I also have some other usable systems around here that I should get cleaned up and ready to donate.

I've got a lot to do, so I'd better get to it. I'll be back here Monday, if not before then.


Thursday, -1 January 2005

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09:00 - Is it just me, or does anyone else wonder about the tsunami casualty figures? I suspect they have the same relation to reality as Vietnam-era body counts, if that. I mean, think about it. Several countries, most of them very poor, hope to receive billions of dollars in aid. Surely it's in their interests to exaggerate the number of deaths as much as possible to increase the amount of aid they receive.

I don't understand in the first place why US taxpayer dollars are being sent to assist tsunami victims. If individuals and private charities want to send money, fine. That's their decision. But the US government has no business sending taxpayer dollars. In particular, it has no business sending taxpayer dollars to aid Islamic countries, whose citizens celebrated in the streets on 9/11. I have a long memory. Apparently some people don't.

And the UN criticizes the US as "stingy" despite the fact that the US donates more aid than all other countries combined. Give me a break. If the US suffers a huge natural disaster, who sends help to us? I'll tell you. The UK, Canada, and Australia. That's it. Those countries are our only real friends, and I think we should limit our disaster aid to them.

If the US has a spare billion dollars lying around, I can think of better things to do with it than sending it to Southeast Asia. US Air is about to go into liquidation, throwing thousands of people out of work in Winston-Salem and Pittsburgh. One of our neighbors worked for US Air. Yesterday was her last day. She cleaned out her desk before leaving work. She has a mortgage to pay and no immediate prospects for finding another job. Usama bin Laden, with the active assistance of the TSA, wrecked her life. Ask her if the US government should be sending a billion dollars to aid tsunami victims.

We have now completely migrated to Linux. I beat my self-imposed migration deadline with a day or two to spare. We now have zero Windows systems running in the house, although I do have various test-bed systems that still have Windows installed. But for production systems, we're now 100% Linux. Oh, I may cheat a bit, for example if I want to run a Windows-only game, but Windows is pretty much gone. Even the Home Theater PC has been stripped of Windows. I'm going to rebuild it from the ground up as a Linux HTPC, using MythTV or perhaps MediaPortal.

Messier, my former primary desktop Windows 2000 system, which had been serving temporarily as a file server, is now shut down. I transferred all the data off it yesterday. That amounted to about 50 GB of archived data. About half of that is probably useless, most of which is in the install directory. I mean, how likely am I ever to need the RedHat psyche ISOs or NT4 SP3?

I copied everything to adelie, Barbara's Xandros Desktop 2.5 system. If I'm going to use any of our desktop systems as a server, it makes sense to use Barbara's. I don't touch it very often, so it's very stable. It's also connected to a Falcon Electric UPS.

There are three new top-level directories now on //adelie/home/barbara. (I put them there to make it easy for Barbara to access everything.)
The data in usr get backed up to DVD every morning, and several times a day to backup directories on hypatia, my primary office system. The data in holding get backed up sporadically, each time I sweep data from usr to holding. The data in archive get backed up infrequently, when I sweep data from holding to archive. I sweep from usr to holding each time usr approaches the maximum capacity of a DVD, and from holding to archive each time holding approaches the capacity of a DVD. Because I consider the unrecoverable bit error rate of DVD+R/RW to be unacceptably high, everything is written to at least two DVDs and usually several. Massive redundancy solves the bit error rate problem. If I can't recover a file from one disc, I can get it from another.

Barbara has started her Deep Clean, which means she turns into the White Tornado. I hear a roaring noise approaching from the hall. It's coming to get me! I see a large, flat, reptilian head poking around the corner, attached to a long snake-like body. It's sucking up everything in sight. Oh, no! It's got my foot! Arrrrrrrgggggghhhhh....


Friday, 0 January 2005

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8:40 - These things have started appearing everywhere.

The one to the upper left is a King Penguin named Tux. The one in the middle is an Adélie Penguin named Tux, who looks like he's started celebrating early. The one to the lower right is an Emperor Penguin named Tux. (I was thinking about naming one of them Pengium 4, but Barbara nixed that idea.)

14:38 - I've been working pretty much straight through all day on my office, with some interruptions to help Barbara do various stuff, and I've finished... my desk.

I dusted, vacuumed, and degrunged everything on the desktop, and removed a bunch of cables and cords that were no longer necessary. While I had my primary system out for cleaning, I popped the lid of the Antec Aria and configured the Pentium 4 Northwood to run at 2.8 GHz (about 69W) rather than 3.2 GHz (about 82W). I can do that because I use Engineering Sample processors provided by Intel, which have unlocked multipliers. I can't tell any difference at all in performance, and reducing power consumption by 13W should let the system run noticeably cooler and quieter.

Not that that will make much difference, as it turns out. I also installed a 1.5 KVA Falcon Electric on-line UPS. They call it a mini-tower unit, and that's exactly what it looks like, including not one but two large fans on the back. The UPS sits on top of a second Falcon Electric mini-tower unit, this one a supplemental battery. I'm not sure how much the supplemental battery will extend run time, but I expect by quite a lot. The thing weighs about 125 pounds, nearly all of it battery.

I'm not going to have any UPS capacity problems. The UPS has a series of LEDs to indicate load. The first one is 25%, and it barely flickers from time to time. That's with two computers, one a P4/2.8C and one a P4/3.4EE, a 19" CRT, a 17" CRT, a speaker system, a bunch of networking equipment, a scanner, and my desk lamp.

Speaking of the 19" CRT, it's my Hitachi SuperScan Elite 751. As I was cleaning it up, I noticed that it was made in January 1999, so it's about to turn six years old. After nearly six years of constant use, image quality and brightness are as good as ever. That's the difference between a top-notch monitor and a second- or third-rate one. A cheap one would have died long ago.


Saturday, 1 January 2005

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09:55 - Happy New Year!

Barbara and I went to bed last night well before midnight. I knew when midnight arrived because the fireworks started. The dogs weren't happy. Duncan, seeking protection, levitated up onto the bed next to Barbara, and Malcolm started barking at every pop, boom, or whistle. Poor Duncan. He turns 10 years old today. Every one of his birthdays has been welcomed with fireworks, which terrify him.

Windows NT 4 Server is no more. For all intents and purposes, Microsoft discontinued support as of today. Large businesses, those with a few dozen servers or more, can continue to receive limited pay-for support through year-end 2006, but for the rest of us NT4 Server is now unsupported.

I'll surprise some people by agreeing with Microsoft. They point out that Windows NT4 Server was introduced more than eight years ago and that the world has changed. They are providing support, albeit at a price, for large-scale users through December 31, 2006. That's more than a decade after the software shipped, which is certainly reasonable.

I'll differ with Microsoft, though, about the best course to take. They, of course, recommend upgrading NT4 Server boxes to their current server product. I think that's a dumb thing to do, particularly for those who are using Windows primarily or only as a file and print server. It's no harder to migrate from NT4 Server to a Linux or FreeBSD box running Samba than it is to migrate to Microsoft's current server software. The OSS route is a lot cheaper, and not just in terms of software licensing. Linux or FreeBSD will probably run fine on your current server, and in fact will probably perform better than NT4 Server did. If you go the Windows upgrade route, you're probably looking at major hardware upgrades at a minimum, and more likely buying all new servers.

Now is a good time to cut the cord.

I sent a query to some of my Linux-guru friends about which Linux distro someone migrating from NT4 Server should consider using. Here are the responses I got:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: NT4 Server replacement?
Date: Fri, 31 Dec 2004 12:55:08 -0800
From: Roland Dobbins
To: Robert Bruce Thompson
CC: Greg Lincoln, Brian Bilbrey

I wouldn't go with Linux at all, but with FreeBSD . . . far easier to install and maintain.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: NT4 Server replacement?
Date: Fri, 31 Dec 2004 17:46:15 -0500
From: Brian Bilbrey
To: Roland Dobbins
CC: Robert Bruce Thompson, Greg Lincoln

Roland Dobbins wrote:

> I wouldn't go with Linux at all, but with FreeBSD . . . far easier to
> install and maintain.

Easier for the small business person who just barely managed to keep his head above water with Windows NT 4.0? Hmmm, I'm running a FreeBSD 5.3 install in VMware now to see if there's anything useful there for the non-guru...

Please note, Roland, I'd probably agree with you on OS merits alone, if I knew FreeBSD better. I'm pretty happy with building a minimal install Debian Samba server, too.

Bob's point about Xandros, if you haven't had a chance to play with it yet is that they've made GUI management of the underlying Debian base tools brain-dead simple, but you can still get in and muck with the text config files when you learn enough to be dangerous. Xandros' business server edition is likely to provide ease-of-configuration access to the more arcane settings for Samba as a PDC with roaming profiles and all that (not in the current edition).

Redhat Enterprise Linux 3.0 ES, with support (which the migrating windows business dude is going to need) costs ~800 in year one. Thereafter, he can buy the support-free annual renewal (~ $350) just for the updates, and go with per-incident if needed. This is cheaper than Windows Server 2003, but not cheaper than the direct cost of Windows Server 2003 Small Business ... until you look at ~100 /seat in CALs. Bang, there goes the bucks. Okay, so learning this Linux thing, or FreeBSD...

Speaking of which, how are we doing with that install. Lessee, when the CD finished initial spinup, it asks what I want to boot. Not what I want to install, but what to boot. Eeeek, and there's a countdown timer, um, um... press the power button and call Microsoft.

Oh, wait, those dang CAL costs... Um. Bob, I'd recommend they wait for Xandros Business Server edition. I think there's a decent chance it'll be good enough.

Roland is right in a lot of ways, except that they're just NOT going to spend the time to learn the BSD way, or the Linux limbo. If the tools are familiar enough to go with, and the underlying thing (Debian in the case of Xandros) is stable and recommended and more secure than Windows Server ... why the hell not. It's better than feeding them to the borg. I kept on with the FreeBSD install anyway.

Pretending I didn't know much about what I was doing, I took whatever default seemed best. All packages installed. Set up the ethernet ... not much harder than with Windows, but sure is an ugly text screen. Take defaults on everything else. That's right, no SSH running by default. God knows how I'll ever turn it on later, being a windows dweeb. I got the mouse working ... and the default for Ports is "Yes".

That's a good thing because stuff I'm going to need is in there. But if I don't *know* that Samba is the name of the package that provides Windows networking interoperability, I'm done. Yes, I can ask questions of Google and on mailing lists. God forbid the nascent admin ever ends up by accident on OpenBSD-Misc, or they'll call him a troll for asking stupid questions, a fuckwit for asking questions badly, and a moron for not reading the man pages. That's bound to convert him to the one true way.

Okay, I managed to install and login. The message sends me to the Handbook and the FAQ on the freebsd.org site, so I can go start reading... That's almost as good as hearing someone say, "Don't Panic!" Except that the words likely out of my mouth next are, "Panic about what?" Han Solo said it best: "I've got a bad feeling about this."

Okay, I found the handbook, there's a link right on the index page. Whoa. Buried down in chapter 23, section 10 is the Samba part. It *does* identify itself as being the tool for Windows networking and printer sharing, so I could at least find it. It's only a page and a half long, does tell me what to type where to make it run right, but doesn't tell me right there what to do to install it if I didn't already. I can figure that out with time... Gets me into SWAT and sends me off to www.samba.org. Urk.

Okay, this isn't something that a small business man is going to do for himself. Period. Not FreeBSD. Certainly not OpenBSD. He'll go with DeadRat, or find that Bob recommends waiting for Xandros (IF they do a server version, heh heh heh), or the SMB guy will go with the Borg, because it's simpler, and simple has it's cost-savings associated with it.

Of course the greatest likelihood for those shops still running NT4 is that they'll keep doing so, and hope they get by. What's good enough for Comair is good enough for me!

Happy New Year.


Which pretty much sums it up, I think.

I see that the RIAA and MPAA have taken their efforts against "piracy" to a whole new level. Agents of these organizations are actively polluting P2P networks by distributing Trojaned music and video files that contain adware and other nasties.

Which kind of makes me wonder. Why haven't P2P networks gone private? By that I mean why don't we have P2P network software designed to be used only among friends rather than the world at large? I remember something about such a product being announced a year or so ago, but I haven't heard anything more about it since.

Going private would really put the screws to the RIAA and MPAA.

First, under Fair Use provisions of existing law, it's arguably legal for me to give copies of CDs and videos to friends for personal use, and to receive such copies from them. That was the defense Grokster originally used, and it might have worked had not the judge found it hard to believe that Grokster users were distributing music files only to their 100,000 closest friends.

Second, private P2P networking would eliminate all entry points for the RIAA and MPAA. There wouldn't be any public P2P servers, BitTorrent sites, and so on for the RIAA and MPAA to attack. Membership would be completely private. No one could join except by invitation, and invitations would be issued only to someone who had been vouched for by one or more existing members.

Third, the selection of music and videos to download would likely be nearly as comprehensive as those on current P2P networks. Perhaps more so, because friends often have similar tastes in music and videos, so what one member didn't already have, another would be likely to have.

Fourth, all transfers could be encrypted. No one outside the private ring would have any idea what was being transferred.

So, how might this work? Barbara has, I don't know, perhaps 400 or 500 audio CDs. I rip those CDs and encode them to MP3 and/or OGG. Or perhaps I just leave them as .wav or .iso files. After all, 400 or 500 audio CDs is probably only a couple hundred gigabytes, and I have a lot more hard disk space than that going unused. I publish the files to a local directory, perhaps called /shared, which is accessible to anyone in my private ring. Meanwhile, another member of my private ring is busy ripping the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and publishing those files to his /shared directory.

When he next logs on, the private P2P up pops up a What's New list that shows the 500 CDs I just published. There are a few dozen CDs he doesn't have but thinks he might like, so he highlights the titles he wants and clicks Download. The private P2P software running on my system receives his request, and starts sending the files to him, in encrypted form, of course. While that's going on, another member of the group checks the What's New list and finds the new Buffy files, which he starts downloading.

Later on, I check in, planning to upload a few more CDs, and find that the first season of Buffy is now available for download. I tell the P2P app to go get those files for me. Because they're now on two different members' systems, my P2P software can use the upload bandwidth of both systems simultaneously to get the Buffy files faster. But it doesn't really matter how long it takes, because they'll end up on my system sooner or later. When that happens, my P2P software pops up a notification to tell me they're now on my local hard drive and available for burning to DVD or just to run directly from my hard drive. I don't have any idea where specifically those files came from, except that they're from a member of my ring and therefore trustworthy. Similarly, no one who downloads the CDs I posted has any idea that they came specifically from me, only that they were provided by a member of his trusted ring.

Such a scheme would be a nightmare for the RIAA and MPAA. Thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of small rings would pop up, each comprising from a half dozen to a couple dozen friends. Some people would belong to two or three rings, so anything popular posted on one ring might eventually become available on nearly all rings. Unlike current P2P networks, which are all star-based in one way or another, this network would be mesh-based. Even if RIAA or MPAA agents somehow gained access to a ring, they would be stymied in their efforts to unravel the thread. Initially, the only person they'd be able to prove was a member of that ring would be the person who invited them to join. Even if they were eventually able to uncover other members of the ring, so what? They're merely friends sharing among themselves, which is Fair Use.

And some more mail that I meant to post earlier...

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: BitTorrent and RSS feeds
Date: Wed, 29 Dec 2004 20:16:43 +0100
From: David Thorarinsson
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

Mr. Thompson,

If you go to this BitTorrent site in Sweden:

Check out the link that has to do with legal threats. The guy who runs the site is very much aware of his rights by law and he isn't nice when he responds to the big firms that are trying to bully him. He publishes their letters in full as well as his answers to them. Very funny reading indeed! It would be great if more people had the balls to do something like this. Just be aware that his site might take a long time to respond because as you can imagine, his site is seeing more traffic than it can handle after suprnova and others were shut down.

As for RSS reading, did you know that Thunderbird has such a reader feature? It works quite well. As for blogging software, try out Wordpress. It is customisable and very easy to set up. Brian uses it  (and so do I).

Best regards,


Heh. Go Swedes! It's nice to know that some countries still have rational copyright laws.

I have used the RSS feature in Firefox, although I haven't used Thunderbird. I'll take a look at it and WordPress. Thanks.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Vonage
Date: Tue, 28 Dec 2004 19:52:30 -0500
From: Dave Browning
To: Robert Bruce Thompson


Since you mentioned Vonage again today, and I have had it for a few months, I thought I would drop you a quick note to let you know my experiences so far.

In the few months I have had it, I am only aware of two interruptions in service, neither due to Vonage.  One was due to an electrical power outage and the other was due to a short interruption in my broadband (cable modem) Internet connection.

I got the $14.99 limited usage plan.  With taxes and fees, it works out to $16.94 per month.  The only other cost was $39.95 for the "black box." Although I am sure you want to get the unlimited usage plan since you work from home, and therefore probably place a lot more calls than I do. 

Also I have noticed that at least Linksys has a broadband router with VOIP black box functionality built in.  Actually they have two, one for Vonage and one for the AT&T VOIP service. 

If you decide to sign up for Vonage, check at Best Buy or Circuit City to see if they have a package which includes the black box which works out to be a better deal that just signing up directly with Vonage.  Or if nothing else, let me know, and I'll send you a referral email which will get each of us a free month of service if you use it to sign up.

The only drawback I have found with Vonage is that I live in an apartment, and I can't do anything to run phone wires.  Which wouldn't be that bad except my cable modem is in my bedroom, the one place I don't want a phone ringer.  So I found one of those cordless phones for which you can buy extra extensions.  I should have grabbed an extra base unit when I had the chance so I could have a spare.  Because if the base or its power adapter dies, I'll be stuck with three useless cordless phone handsets and chargers.

I haven't really been able to tell any difference in call quality between Vonage and regular phone service.  If you want to hear what a Vonage call sounds like you can email me with your phone number and a suitable time to call and I can call you.  Or you can call me at <phone number redacted>.

Dave Browning

Thanks. I'll probably eventually sign up with a provider like Vonage, but I think I'll dip my toe in the water by playing with Skype and/or the VoIP client that comes with Xandros 3.0.

Actually, what I'd really like to do is mount a web cam over my monitor and get set up for a combination of VoIP and full-motion video.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Land lineTelephones
Date: Tue, 28 Dec 2004 13:20:51 -0500
From: Bob Sprowl
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

Hello Robert,

Been meaning to ask you a question or two about Linux but your post about leaving the land line telephone world prompted this.

I would never drop my land line telephone service. It is the most reliable utility and the savings is not worth the loss of service to me.  This is especially true in a natural disaster.  The last utility to go out is usually the phone and the first to go out is the cable TV.  Cell phones are only as good and the power to the nearest cell which is not what it should be in a major disaster. During the aftermath of Fran we were without power for six days at my office in Raleigh and the cell phones were out within a day. The cell phones were in and out for four more days but we never lost our regular telephone service. JMO

I want to switch to Linux but I have not been able to find drivers for our Kodak cameras (my older DC3400 and the wife's new Easy Share CX7430), my scanner or our Palm Pilots (my old Palm IIIxe and the wife's new Zire). Any suggestions?

Please note my new e-mail address as we moved to Harnett County, just outside Sanford, a few weeks ago.
--  Best regards,  Bob

That's an excellent point, and I'm also a bit concerned about the 911 issue. I have never understood why cable modem and xDSL providers don't routinely provide a static IP address. It'd be easy enough to map that to a physical location, which would eliminate the 911 issue.

As to Linux and your peripherals, are your cameras USB? If so, you should be able to mount them as generic "USB Storage Device" and read from and write to their memory/cards that way. As to your scanner, check the SANE page for details about whether or not your particular model is supported under Linux. As to PDA's, that's an excellent question and one that I'm going to have to deal with shortly. Barbara has a Sony CLIE that she needs to be able to sync to her Linux box. There are several possibilities, including Evolution Korganizer, etc. I'm hoping I can get at least one of them working. I'll post as I know more.

13:43 - Bits and pieces...

Ron Morse points out a hidden danger over on the Hardwareguys messageboard.

This is from the “this shouldn't happen but it does” file.

I lost an ATI Radeon 9800Pro graphics card today because the cooler for the VPU got clogged with dust and dog hair and quit turning. It may have made some noise before it died...I wasn't in the room...but when I came back there was no video and nothing I could do would get it back.

Troubleshooting was easy...I pulled the card, turned it component side up and the problem was evident.  Although it took mere seconds to clean the HSF unit with canned air the fan had seized and the VPU toasted itself. The amount of heat released  was impressive.  Some of the traces had delaminated and the board in the vicinity of the VPU was black and blistered. Eventually the fuse link on the card did it's thing.

I try to be rigorous about keeping the inside of the box clean, but the PCI spec puts the components (and fans) of expansion cards facing “down” in my mid-tower case.  I couldn't (easily) visually inspect the card's HSF the last time I cleaned and apparently I didn't wave the mini-vac' s wand in quite the right direction. I really don't like to poke around on the component side of cards when I can't see what I'm doing. You can bet that next time we will start with the canned air before the vacuum.

I'm going to try for a warranty replacement but I won't fight about it...ATI is on holiday schedule this week and not responding except via mail-bot.  I probably won't mention exactly how the fan failed unless they ask more than once.  In the meantime I'm fortunate in that I had a spare card available and nothing else seems to be damaged (or even dirty) although there are tales out there of dying video cards taking their attached monitors with them to electronic Valhalla.

The moral is what you can't see can indeed kill you. The problem could have been avoided had I taken the trouble to bend down and look at the HSF on the “bottom” of the card. But, I didn't and that sloth will cost me...at least shipping to get the dead card back to ATI...perhaps the price of replacing the 9800Pro with the equivalent, albeit better performing, product from the current catalog.  It lists for $400.

Which is something I never considered, because I blow out the dust in my systems frequently enough that it's never been an issue.

And Samsung has announced a new zero-defect policy for their flat-panel displays. Any Samsung FPD purchased from today on is guaranteed for the first six months to have zero dead pixels. Given my high opinion generally of Samsung FPD models, this change is just about enough for me to recommend them exclusively. Suffice it to say that if you want an FPD I'd recommend buying a Samsung model unless you have a very good reason to buy something else. Alas, there's no retroactivity. Any Samsung FPD bought 31 December 2004 or earlier is not covered.


Sunday, 2 January 2005

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