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Week of 14 February 2005

Latest Update: Thursday, 17 February 2005 08:47 -0500
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Monday, 14 February 2005
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09:05 - The push continues. I have six Astronomy Hacks completed and off to my editor. In theory, I'm supposed to have 15 submitted to him by Wednesday. Although I have several in progress, I'm not going to make it to 15 in the next three days. That's okay, though. I talked to my editors, and they said they aren't concerned as much with the actual numbers as they are that I'm making good progress. Which I am.

I'll continue to post the hacks as I complete them over on the Subscribers' page.

It occurred to me last night that Microsoft has the same problem as the broadcast television networks. Just as the "good" viewers--which is to say those with desirable demographics--are abandoning the broadcast networks for alternatives like premium cable channels and DVDs, the "good" users--which is to say the opinion leaders and experts--are abandoning Windows for alternatives like Linux and OS/X.

I can count on one hand the number of my expert friends who continue to use Windows because they want to. Many of them still use Windows, of course, but it's because they have to. They continue to use Windows because their jobs require it, or because there's one critical application that runs only under Windows. But very few of them are happy about using Windows.

Windows has no mind share among experts and opinion leaders, and increasingly little mind share among ordinary users. A few years ago, I speculated that Microsoft might actually be pleased about the plague of malware because it forced upgrades, both paid-for upgrades and free upgrades that allowed Microsoft to sneak in more DRM and so on. But even Microsoft must realize by now that the flood of malware and security holes has made even ordinary users distrust Microsoft software.

Actually, I think the tipping point has already been reached and no one noticed. Microsoft has permanently lost the trust, not just of experts, but of ordinary people. Windows is perceived as something you use because you have to, not because you want to. Not a few people have actually stopped using computers and the Internet because they find it too painful to continue using Windows and Microsoft applications. No one, not even Aunt Minnie, trusts Microsoft software any more. And with good reason.

Spam is part of that, certainly, as are viruses. But the real killer is spyware, adware, and malware in general. I have sat down in front of an ordinary user's PC and found literally scores of malware programs running, slowing the system to a crawl. I will no longer even attempt to clean up Windows systems for my friends. It's too much like Canute's attempt to hold back the tide.

Instead, I tell them that I have a permanent solution for them, if they're willing to put up with some minor inconveniences. Then I install Xandros Linux Open Circulation Edition for them in dual-boot mode, explaining to them that they should only boot Windows if they want to play games or if they absolutely have to use a program that doesn't have a Linux equivalent.

Which brings me to some news. Although it's not up on their web page yet as I write this, today Xandros is releasing Version 3 Open Circulation Edition. I've been beta-testing it, and it's rock solid. It uses the 2.6 kernel, KDE 3.3, and recent versions of most major applications. It comes with Firefox and Thunderbird, although you can easily download the Mozilla Suite, which I prefer. Xandros even includes a trial version of Crossover Office, so you can play around with running Windows apps like MS Office, Quicken, and Photoshop under Linux. OCEv3 connects transparently to Windows networks, and it can automatically resize Windows partitions, which makes it easy to set up in dual-boot mode.

The only real limitation of OCEv3 is that Xandros has hobbled the built-in CD and DVD burning. That's easily fixed, though. Just install K3b, which is what I use by preference anyway.

If you've been thinking about making the change to Linux, Xandros OCEv3 is a good way to get started. I suspect Xandros will handle distribution for it the same way they did for OCEv2. They make available a free BitTorrent download, and charge $10 for an ftp download. I suspect OCEv3 will be mirrored on numerous download sites within the next couple of days. Go grab it and play with it. It may just be good enough to push you over your personal tipping point.

Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention. PC Hardware Buyer's Guide: Choosing the Perfect Components is now in the bookstores, or should be shortly. We got an early copy the end of last week.


Tuesday, 15 February 2005
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22:08 - Long day. I'd hoped to get three hacks done today and three tomorrow, to meet my 15-hack deadline tomorrow. (Not that O'Reilly really cares about 15 exactly, but I hate missing deadlines). I got two hacks done today and most of a third. That leaves three and a bit for tomorrow.

I took the evening off. Mary Chervenak and her husband Paul Jones came over for dinner at 6:00. We sat around downstairs with a nice fire in the fireplace and talked. It was nice. They left about 9:00 because it's a school night for all of us. So, although my work ethic tells me I should have spent that three hours finishing up today's third hack, I'm glad I took the time off.


Wednesday, 16 February 2005
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No post.


Thursday, 17 February 2005
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08:47 - I'm still cranking on Astronomy Hacks. I'm posting the completed first-drafts of individual hacks to the Subscribers' page. I recently posted one about how to clean eyepieces and lenses safely. Subscriber Roy Harvey replied with the letter of the month:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Clean Your Eyepieces and Lenses Safely
Date: Wed, 16 Feb 2005 18:21:27 -0500
From: Roy Harvey
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

You probably won't want to use THIS one, but.....

Bird enthusiast are out in the field with their optics even more than astronomy enthusiast.  We go out in all sorts of weather, boiling hot with sweat dripping, freezing cold when breathing on the eyepiece or even just looking through it fogs it up, fog, rain, snow, anything. And we are often among bushes and trees, at the shore with salt spray around, even out on boats.  While our optics don't compare in price to the highest end astronomical tools, many of us pay plenty - I got a good price on my Swarovski ELs a couple of years ago, just under $1200 with tax, and my scope/tripod was close to $1000 five years ago.

Anyway, my optics have plenty of chance to get dirty, and I often must deal with cleaning in the field. 

I have used lens cleaning tissues, regular cleaning fluids, ROR, air blowers, brushes, microfiber cloths, just about everything except lens pens.  The approach I now use, in preference to all others, even when not in the field, is probably not common in astronomical circles.  I use my tongue.  Very, very gently, very, very wetly.  The tongue is very sensitive, and if there is any grit I can feel it, and I can get it off without any harsh rubbing, with plenty of lubricant.  It is quite common for me to taste the salt when I have been down at the shore.  Once I don't feel anything on the lens any longer, I use a circular motion to be sure I reach everywhere.  Then I finish off with one of the microfiber cloths (if handy) or a tissue.  Or the tail end of a cotton t-shirt, anything soft, CLEAN and absorbent.

It is quick, convenient, and it works very well, all without making me scared for my lenses.

It is not original with me.  Peter Dunne is one of the most famous birders around, and he uses the method.  Note that he does NOT tell anyone else they should use it, just that it is what he does.

Anyway, good luck with your Big Push!

Thanks. I almost sprayed my Coke out through my nose. When I read your message to Barbara, she suggested I immediately go downstairs and lick our 10" mirror clean. I told her I wanted to start small, so I was going to lick her binocular objectives.

Seriously, I'll give it a try, but on something cheap (and tasty).


Friday, 18 February 2005
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Saturday, 19 February 2005
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Sunday, 20 February 2005
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