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Week of 9 May 2005

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Monday, 9 May 2005
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09:56 - I sometimes get email asking why I abandoned tape for backup and shifted to using writable DVD. This screenshot from this morning's backup shows the primary reason. With DVD+RW, I can backup and verify/compare 4 GB of data in half an hour, and that's using 4X DVD+RW. If I'd used 8X or 16X discs, it would have been much faster. If I'd used DDS tape, it would have taken more like two hours.

K3b backup status dialog

The other thing I like about using writable DVD is that the data are immediately accessible without doing a restore operation. That's come in handy more than once, most recently when I upgraded my main desktop system to Xandros 3. The upgrade left the contents of my original home directory in thompson_old. I copied what I thought I needed over to the new home directory and deleted the backup. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten that I had an ISO image I wanted to keep in the downloads directory of thompson_old. When I noticed that it was missing, I simply popped in a backup from several days prior, listed the contents, and copied/pasted the 600 MB ISO file to my hard drive. That took all of 30 seconds, not counting the time for the file to finish copying. If I'd had to recover that file from tape, it would have taken significantly longer.

We had a busy weekend. I didn't even get around to checking my email, so if you sent mail and haven't received a reply, that's why. On Friday night, despite an iffy forecast, we decided to head up to one of the club observing sites. Although the clouds cleared as darkness approached, the transparency was much too poor for observing galaxies, which was what we'd planned to do. About half an hour after full dark, the clouds started to move back in, so we headed home. Saturday and Sunday we spent cleaning up, sorting stuff out for the annual Bulky Item Pickup. We also did cleaning, laundry, and the other usual weekend stuff.

Yesterday afternoon, we headed over to Barbara's sister's house for a Mothers' Day dinner. I took along a spare 80-wire ATA cable to replace the one in Frances's system. As it turned out, the old one looked pretty beat up, so I suspect it's been the problem all along. I've been beating on the two drives that "failed" in that system, and the diagnostics keep telling me they're fine. We also relocated the computer from one side of the desk, against the wall, where the system had no ventilation, to the other side of the desk, where it can breathe freely.

I have lots to do this week, so I'd better get to it.


Tuesday, 10 May 2005
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11:44 - I'm still trying to catch up. I have systems to build, email to read, and a lot of other stuff to get done. Not to mention the final stages of finishing Astronomy Hacks. I just reviewed the index and sent in my corrections. I expect they'll send me the PDF galleys of the QC2 pass any time now...


Wednesday, 11 May 2005
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10:54 - I activated a copy of Windows XP Professional yesterday, mainly just to see what would happen. I'd rebuilt one of the test-bed systems to run DVDshrink and some Windows-only astronomy software. I'd originally planned to install Windows 2000 Professional on it, but I couldn't find a distribution disc. Digging around, I found a Windows XP distribution disc, so I decided just to install XP and be done with it.

Although I've sworn never to activate Windows XP (or any other software) on a production system, I decided to give it a shot on this test-bed system just to see what happened. Not much, as it turns out. The activation wizard asked me to provide personal information, but since that was optional I declined to do so. When I clicked on the button to activate, Windows simply told me my copy had been activated.

All of my Windows XP copies date to its original release. I'd emailed Wagg-Ed and asked them for an unlocked version, explaining that I needed to install and re-install Windows repeatedly on numerous systems to support my book writing. They told me they didn't have an unlocked version available, but asked if 20 licenses would suffice. I told them that'd be fine, and they sent me the 20. Having activated one copy now, I'm down to only 19 left. Oh, well.

I hadn't installed Windows XP for some time, and I'd forgotten just what a pain in the butt it is to install. It didn't recognize the Ethernet adapter in the ASUS A7N8X-VM/400 motherboard, so I had to download drivers for it on another system, burn them to CD, and install them manually. Once I did that, I started the Windows Update routine. When I connected to Windows Update, it told me there were 17 critical updates, and I told it to go ahead and install them. After a reboot, I went back to Windows Update, which told me I needed to install SP2. Huh? I figured it'd have done that in the first pass. But no. So I downloaded and installed SP2, rebooted, and went back yet again to Windows Update. It told me there were 17 critical updates that needed to be installed. Crap. Apparently, installing SP2 made it "forget" about those other updates. So I told it to download and install all 17 critical updates yet again, which it did. Geez.

Xandros has really spoiled me. When I use Windows nowadays, I'm constantly aware of just how crude and kludgey it is. A pretty face covering an absolute mess. I'll probably take a look at Shorthorn, if Microsoft ever gets around to shipping it, but I'm pretty sure it'll be much too little and much too late. I don't doubt that Microsoft will ship something they'll call Longhorn by the end of next year, but it won't be Longhorn as Microsoft originally defined it. For that, we'll probably have to wait until at least 2010, and probably 2012 or later. Can you imagine where Linux and Linux apps will be by then?

Coincidentally, after I activated Windows XP yesterday, I came across this article on activation on Ed Foster's GripeLog site. I thought one of the anonymous comments summarized pretty well why I won't depend on any product that requires activation:


Thursday, 12 May 2005
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10:13 - I read John Sandford's Broken Prey last night. The protagonist's wife bought him an iPod and a gift certificate for 100 songs from iTunes, so throughout the book he's debating with himself and others about which 100 songs to choose. He wants the top 100 rock-'n-roll tunes. I remembered that VH1 had done a Top 100 Rock Songs thing a few years back, so I went out and searched for it. I didn't think much of their list, so I started thinking about my own. I'm 51 years old, which means that I was too young to be an Elvis fan. I first became aware of rock about the time of the British Invasion, or slightly before, say 1962 or 1963.

So I've been thinking about my own list. Off the top of my head, and without yet attempting to rank them, I started as follows:

 1. Satisfaction (I can't get no) - Rolling Stones
 2. Paint it Black - Rolling Stones
 3. Sympathy for the Devil - Rolling Stones
 4. Beast of Burden - Rolling Stones

Hmmm. I'd better stop there and arbitrarily limit it to at most four songs per group.

 5. Somebody to Love - Jefferson Airplane
 6. White Rabbit - Jefferson Airplane
 7. Incense and Peppermints - Strawberry Alarm Clock
 8. Won't Get Fooled Again - The Who
 9. Bargain - The Who
10. Layla - Derek and the Dominoes
11. Sweet Home Alabama - Lynyrd Skynyrd
12. Ohio - Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
13. Hey, Hey, My, My (Into the Black) - Neil Young
14. Old Man - Neil Young
15. Amie - Pure Prairie League
16. Stop Draggin' my Heart Around - Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty
17. Refugee - Tom Petty
18. Fast Buck Freddie - Jefferson Starship
19. Lola - The Kinks
20. What I Like About You - The Romantics
21. Losin' My Religion - REM
22. Love Potion #9 - The Clovers
23. Louie, Louie - The Kingsmen
24. House of the Rising Sun - The Animals
25. Dream On - Aerosmith
26. Money for Nothin' - Dire Straits
27. China Grove - The Doobie Brothers
28. After Midnight - Eric Clapton
29. Lay Down Sally - Eric Clapton
30. Knockin' on Heaven's Door - Bob Dylan
31. Night Moves - Bob Seger
32. Stairway to Heaven - Led Zeppelin
33. Magic Carpet Ride - Steppenwolf
34. WIld Thing - The Troggs
35. Piano Man - Billy Joel
36. Only the Good Die Young - Billy Joel
37. Rhiannon - Fleetwood Mac
38. The Chain - Fleetwood Mac
39. Maggie May - Rod Stewart
40. American Pie - Don McLean
41. It's a Heartache - Bonnie Tyler
42. Girls Just Want to Have Fun - Cyndi Lauper
43. For What It's Worth - Buffalo Springfield
44. Mr. Bojangles - Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
45. (Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay - Otis Redding
46. Both Sides Now - Judy Collins
47. White Room - Cream
48. I Love Rock-'n-Roll - Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
49. Brown Eyed Girl - Van Morrison
50. Born to Run - Bruce Springsteen

Holy Cow! Half way there and I haven't even gotten started. I'd better not make a pig of myself. I'll stop at 50. The other 50 are up to my readers. Post them over on the messageboard.

10:55 - And I think about my all-time favorite rocker, J. S. Bach, and wonder what he would have done with electric guitars and drums. I'm sitting here imagining the Rolling Stones doing Concerto for Two Violins in E Major.


Friday, 13 May 2005
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08:48 - Friday the 13th falls on a Friday this month. (In case anyone is wondering, that comes from the Niven/Pournelle novel Lucifer's Hammer.)

I've started the QC2 pass unexpectedly. Marlowe Shaeffer, my production editor, sent me PDFs the other day to check figures. As I went through and commented on the figures, I noticed that some edits had been made to the text. I asked her if this was the "final" version of the text that I'd see in QC2 and she said it was. So I asked her, rather than waiting for the official QC2 release later this month, if I could just start proofreading this version of the text. She agreed, and I suggested that we call it QC1a. She said she'd find it less confusing if we just designated it QC2, so QC2 it is. What would have been QC2 later this month will now be called QC3.

I'm getting ready to replace my main system, hypatia. That system is a Pentium 4/2.8 with an Intel D865GRH motherboard and 512MB of memory in an Antec Aria case. The new main system, newton, will be a Pentium 4/550 with an Intel D925XCV motherboard, 1 GB of DDR2 memory, and an nVIDIA 6800GT video card in an Antec P160 case. Quite an upgrade.

The real reason I'm upgrading, though, is that the CPU fan noise from hypatia is driving me insane. Until several days ago, it'd been cool here, with high temperatures in the 60s. We didn't bother to turn on the heat, so the indoor temperature was usually around 68°F. At those temperatures, hypatia is very quiet. I checked the CPU temperature and fan speeds during this cool period. The CPU temperature at idle was around 50°C. The CPU fan was running about 2,600 or 2,700 RPM, and the power supply fan at about 1,100 RPM. The system was very quiet.

Then it warmed up outdoors, and our air conditioning kicked in. We keep it set at 72° or 73°F. That four or five degree difference in ambient temperature makes a huge difference. When I checked Wednesday, the CPU temperature was at 57°C, with the CPU fan running at 5,118 RPM and the power supply fan at 1,545 RPM. The system was much louder. Yesterday morning, the CPU idle temperature was at 60° or 61°C, the CPU fan was running at 5,726 RPM, and the power supply fan at 1,822 RPM. You could hear the CPU fan whining from a couple rooms away.

I looked down and noticed newton sitting under my desk. When I turned it on, I found that I'd already installed Xandros 3 on it, so I decided to migrate my stuff over to newton and make it my new main system. The heatsink in newton is huge and there's also a very large CPU fan with exposed blades that apparently does a good job of cooling the heatsink without making much noise. Sitting on the floor beside my desk, newton is nearly inaudible, even when running under load.

Yesterday, just before I started to do the QC2 pass, I'd copied my Mozilla profile information over to newton. That worked fine. The trick is to copy everything from your old profile to the profile directory on the new system before you fire up Mozilla Mail for the first time on the new system. If you do that, all your mail folders, address books, and so on just work.

Interesting news about Microsoft Windows XP Crippled Starter Edition. Microsoft wasn't kidding about it being intended for entry level third-world users. As it turns out, Crippled Edition won't run on most common processors, including the Pentium 4, Athlon 64, Sempron, and even the Athlon XP. Crippled Edition checks the CPUID string at boot, and will only run on computers with an AMD Duron or Geode (!), Intel Celeron, or VIA processor.

Not that that matters much, because by all reports Microsoft isn't selling many copies of Crippled Edition. It's easy to understand why. Computer buyers in the third-world countries where Crippled Edition is available have a choice. They can buy a bare computer or one with Linux installed, or they can pay US$15 to $30 more for that same computer with Crippled Edition installed. If they want Windows, they can buy a Windows CD for about $3. So why would anyone pay $15 to $30 more for an inferior version of WIndows?

I once heard chutzpah defined as someone who'd murdered both his parents appealing to the jury for sympathy because he was an orphan. But Microsoft has redefined chutzpah. Later this year, they'll release a paid service, One Care, that incorporates virus and malware scanning. Pricing has not yet been announced, but is expected to be in the $80/year range per system.

One has to admire their nerve. Release a fundamentally insecure, broken operating system, and then charge people to protect themselves against the security problems that exist because they use your operating system.

All of this will eventually come back to haunt them, though. People can be pushed just so far, and I'm starting to see indications that this is happening. Technology Review has posted an interesting essay, How Linux Could Overthrow Microsoft, by Charles Ferguson, the guy who started Vermeer Technologies, which Microsoft later bought and used as the basis of FrontPage. Ferguson is, if anything, too pessimistic about how long it will take Linux to become a major force on the desktop.

During the rest of this year and in 2006, I expect to hear frequent announcements about major organizations migrating to desktop Linux. IBM is, as always, cautious about pre-announcing anything, but there's a lot going on behind the scenes there. Novell is going full speed ahead with desktop Linux deployment, and I expect them to be announcing some major wins over the coming months, with multiple large-scale corporate and government deployments in the 5,000 to 50,000 desktop range.

I think the error made by people who are pessimistic about the adoption of desktop Linux is that they assume linear increases. For example, pessimistic observers say that desktop Linux is at 3% right now, will reach 6% by 2008, and 9% by 2011. But it doesn't work that way. It's a critical mass question, and once critical mass is achieved, the growth rate becomes exponential. As more organizations adopt desktop Linux, it becomes far easier for other organizations to do so as well. At some point, it becomes a matter of tipping the first domino and watching the others fall. And that is what Microsoft lives in fear of.


Saturday, 14 May 2005
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Sunday, 15 May 2005
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