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Week of 30 May 2005

Latest Update: Friday, 3 June 2005 08:53 -0400
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Monday, 30 May 2005
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00:00 - Out of town.


Tuesday, 31 May 2005
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16:44 - We got back to Winston-Salem late this afternoon after spending the holiday weekend with Marcia and Brian Bilbrey in Bowie, Maryland. We had a great time, as did all four of the dogs, theirs and ours. As always, Brian, Marcia, Lucy and Molly were the perfect host, hostess, and dogesses, respectively.

The only bad thing about getting home is having to catch up on all that happened while we were gone. Barbara's spent the last couple of hours getting unpacked, cutting the grass, etc., while I got the network back up, new journal pages made, and so on.

The network came up fine except for the cable modem, which was deader than King Tut. After fishing around in the rats' nest of wiring under my desk, I eventually concluded that the power brick for the cable modem was dead. I spent some time unsuccessfully digging around for a working power brick that had the correct voltage, amperage, and connector. Not finding one, I decided to plug the old "dead" power brick into another receptacle. Sure enough, it worked.

I have, believe it or not, a power strip on which at least two of the receptacles spontaneously stopped working, while leaving other receptacles on the same power strip fully functional. I'm assuming it's fused per side and that the fuse for one side failed, but it's too deeply buried to dig out and look at it right now.

Speaking of digging out, I'm still going through the email that's accumulated since last Wednesday evening. Most of it's listserv messages, of course, but there are a good 50 to 75 real messages, each of which needs a response and/or some action. I'm too tired to deal with all of it tonight, so I'll get an early start on it tomorrow.


Wednesday, 1 June 2005
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10:08 - I sent the following mail to subscribers yesterday:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: [RBT] Xandros 3.0 Service Pack 2 and kernel update
Date: Tue, 31 May 2005 20:48:04 -0400
From: Robert Bruce Thompson
To: Subscribers

Barbara and I just returned today from visiting Brian and Marcia Bilbrey over the holiday. Brian and I discussed a great many things, of course. One of them was my concern that Xandros doesn't post security updates as often (or as comprehensively) as I'd like. So I was pleased to learn this afternoon that Xandros posted a whopper of an update last week, just before we left for DC.

Xandros 3 Service Pack 2 is huge, much like one of those Microsoft SPs that pretty much replaces the operating system. I didn't write it down, but I think I remember that X3SP2 replaces/updates/adds between 300 and 400 files. There are many core OS updates as well as various application updates included in SP2.

Fortunately, I scanned the messageboard before I visited Xandros to check for updates. Ron Morse took the arrows in the back for all of us. Here's what Ron recommends:

1. Download and install X3SP2, but DO NOT REBOOT.
2. Download and install the appropriate 2.6.11 kernel update.
3. After the kernel update completes, THEN reboot.

Read all of the material Xandros includes before you do the update, of course. They do mention that installing SP2 may bork your system and that if that happens you can probably recover by booting your distribution CD and choosing the recover option.

I installed X3SP2 and the non-SMP 2.6.11 kernel on my den system without any problems at all. Everything seems to work properly, at least the basics. I haven't tried burning DVDs, for example, but mail, browsing, OOo, and the other apps I fired up appeared to work normally after the SP2/kernel update.

There are also other app-specific updates available, including the Firefox 1.04 update, which fixes several security holes. After applying all of these updates, your system should be about as secure as it's possible for it to be.

And one thing I forgot to mention is that after applying SP2 and the kernel update, you should also do a global update, which will download and install several additional patches.

And there's related mail:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: [RBT] Xandros 3.0 Service Pack 2 and kernel update
Date: Tue, 31 May 2005 17:52:25 -0700
From: Roland Dobbins
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

Do you think Xandros are financially viable, in the long haul?

I don't know. I hope so, but in the end it probably doesn't matter, except to Xandros and its employees. Most of what makes Xandros special is the proprietary software they've added to the Debian distribution, things like Xandros File Manager, Xandros Networks, their installer, and so on. If Xandros were to fail, I suspect much of that software would end up being open-sourced or perhaps sold to another commercial distro. And the truth is that, although I'm perfectly happy with Xandros as a production distro, it's also served as training wheels for me. If I had to, I could switch to something like Mepis or Kubuntu without looking back. But I'll probably stick with Xandros as long as they're around, which I hope is permanently. I do wish they'd reconsider basing their distro directly on Debian, though. I think they'd do better to base their distro on Kubuntu, which is updated much more frequently.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Plextor and Linux
Date: Tue, 31 May 2005 23:08:28 -0400
From: David Magda <dmagda@ee.ryerson.ca>
Reply-To: David Magda <dmagda@ee.ryerson.ca>
To: Robert Bruce Thompson <thompson@ttgnet.com>


While Plextor may make excellent hardware, it seems that their
treatment of Linux developers may not be as great. Some people who
created software to take advantage some of the more advanced features
in Plextor hardware have (supposedly?) received cease & desist letters:


Thought you might be interested.

I know nothing about this. I've read the threads, but that of course is only one side of the story. If it's true it's disappointing, but not sufficient for me to withdraw my endorsement of Plextor products. I try to encourage companies that are OSS-friendly, but the sad fact is that many companies that make top-notch products have not yet seen the light. I think the best way to proceed is to encourage them with the carrot rather than beat on them with the stick.

More than a few companies that were formerly Linux-hostile are now, if not Linux-friendly, at least making some efforts to support Linux and other OSS products. When a company does dip its toe in the Linux waters, I think it's best for those of us who support OSS to thank them rather than berate them for not going far enough fast enough. My perception of Plextor has been that they're not overtly hostile to Linux, but simply haven't "gotten" it yet.

I'll email my contact at Plextor and ask him if the statements made in that thread are correct. If he gives his permission, I'll post his comments here.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Xandros Convert?
Date: Wed, 1 Jun 2005 18:50:32 +1000
From: Rob Megarrity
To: Robert Bruce Thompson


I thought you'd like to know that I am impressed with Xandros.

I installed Version. 3.0.1.OCE on a new system (ASUS Integrated-SiS chipset). I connected to my network and was browsing in a couple of minutes . I intend to run Xandros in parallel with my normal system to see how I go. So far, a CD containing Movies, JPGs, and PowerPoint files played without problem. Xandros reported IP addresses in a more friendly and logical manner than XP.

I wasn't sure how Xandros would handle the integrated motherboard, but I was pleasantly surprised. All other hardware was detected properly.

It seems that Xandros has a real future, especially since the installation takes half the time that XP requires (No extra drivers, No Anti-Virus software etc. etc.)

I agree with you about the security issues with Windows; I've seen some very trashed XP systems lately.

I'm glad you like it. Nearly everyone who's tried Xandros on my recommendation has had nice things to say about it. Many can't convert fully to it because they have Windows apps they need to run, but a lot of people are dual-booting, running Xandros routinely and Windows only when they must. Xandros keeps improving with each release, while Windows pretty much stands still, so I also think Xandros has a great future.

Speaking of subscriber mailings, the following addresses generated bounces. If one of them belongs to you, please send me your current email address.

jrobertball at earthlink net...User unknown

lhinson at mvn net: Recipient address rejected: unknown user

gco738 at kiva net: User unknown in local recipient table

quentinf at gte net: unknown or illegal alias

I have a couple of web articles to write for O'Reilly and not much time to write them, so I'd better get to work.


Thursday, 2 June 2005
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09:45 - One of the moderators posted download links for Xandros 3.0 Business Edition Gold on the private Xandros beta-testing messageboard yesterday. I downloaded it and installed it on a couple of systems. Everything I've looked at functions flawlessly. X3 BE has a lot of core OS and application updates from the X3 Deluxe released last December, but most or all of those updates are included in the SP2 and kernel update I mentioned the other day.

Xandros hasn't updated the comparison matrix yet to include X3 BE, but the essential differences between X3 Deluxe and X3 BE are that BE includes Star Office rather than OOo, can authenticate against a Windows PDC or AD server, and includes clients for Citrix, SAP, and other business oriented features. For most home/small business users, X3 Standard or Deluxe is fine, but many businesses will need the features of BE. I'll run X3 BE because I have it, but I could get along fine with Deluxe, Standard, or even the freely downloadable Open Circulation Edition.

Barbara is leaving Saturday with her parents on a bus tour to Maine. She won't be back until next Thursday, so I'll have time to upgrade her main system, which currently runs Xandros 2.5 BE, to Xandros 3 BE. There are a lot of features in X3 that she'll like, including full support for PDA synching. I may even migrate her mail from Mozilla, which is deprecated, to Kontact, which is an integrated email client and PIM similar to Microsoft Outlook.

11:00 - Microsoft has finally made it official. The next release of Office will use Microsoft's proprietary XML format for storing files. Nearly all of the news stories miss the point completely, though. They swallow the Microsoft propaganda hook, line, and sinker by claiming that Microsoft's decision somehow makes the new Office file formats "open".

If you believe that Microsoft will ever voluntarily give up format lock-in, I have a bridge I'd like to sell you. The new formats are even more tightly closed than the old ones. Microsoft has just changed their format lock-in scheme. Previously, they simply didn't document the formats and changed them often enough to make it difficult to reverse-engineer them. With the change to XML, Microsoft will now use patents to keep their formats closed.

Microsoft claims that their new formats are open because they offer a royalty-free license to use them. That's a red herring, because the royalty-free license Microsoft offers is usable only by other commercial software companies, of which there aren't many offering alternatives to MS Office.

The Microsoft license is useless to open source developers because it is patent-encumbered. That's the whole idea. Microsoft wants to give the appearance of openess while avoiding the reality at all costs. If Microsoft really wanted to open up the Office file formats, all they had to do was use the open OASIS format, which OpenOffice.org 2.0 uses. They didn't do that because OOo is the only credible threat to Office. Instead, they cleverly locked out OOo while still being able to claim their XML format is "open". If you want the truth of the matter, read the Office 2003 XML Reference Schema Patent License , which includes the following key sentence:

"Microsoft may have patents and/or patent applications that are necessary for you to license in order to make, sell, or distribute software programs that read or write files that comply with the Microsoft specifications for the Office Schemas."

What a bunch of weasels.


Friday, 3 June 2005
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08:53 - Here's something pretty stupid. A claim that Hitler had developed a working fission bomb. Not just developed an A-bomb, but detonated it. And not just one, but several. Give me a break. Is there anyone who knows anything about it who believes that Hitler, had he had functioning fission bombs, would not have used them against the Red Army?

The sketch of the so-called Hitler bomb appears to have a serious flaw. It uses plutonium, which is fine in itself. The US produced two types of fission bomb late in WWII. The first type, which used U-235 as its fissile material, was considered so likely to work that it was first used live, without testing. The scientists were less certain that the second type, which used Pu-239 as its fissile material, would work, so that was the bomb they tested at Trinity.

Their problem was that Pu-239 was relatively easy to come by. It could be produced in a nuclear reactor and separated and purified by purely chemical methods. U-235, on the other hand, was very difficult to separate from the non-fissile U-238, because the two isotopes behave identically in chemical reactions. Only about 0.7% of naturally occuring uranium atoms are U-235, and the only way to separate U-235 from U-238 was by physical methods such as gaseous diffusion and centrifuging. That made U-235 hard to come by and expensive to produce.

By late summer of 1945, the Manhattan Project had produced only enough U-235 for one fission bomb, which was regarded as insufficient to ensure the end of the war. Accordingly, it had been decided to produce multiple fission bombs based on Pu-239. The problem was that it's relatively simple to produce a U-235 fission bomb. Because of the characteristics of U-235, it's possible to use a simple gun design wherein a nearly critical mass of U-235 is produced with a small missing section. That missing section is the projectile in a literal gun. When the gun fires, the U-235 projectile is fired into the sub-critical mass, making it instantly critical.

But that doesn't work with Pu-239, which fizzles if the gun method is used. For Pu-239, an alternative method must be used. That alternative is called implosion, whereby a Pu-239 sphere of sub-critical density is suddenly compressed to critical density by using explosives surrounding the Pu-239 sphere. When the explosives detonate, they crush the sphere to make it more dense, thereby achieving criticality. The problem with this method is that the explosive must be detonated simultaneously with extreme precision at multiple points around the sphere. Doing that with the necessary precision demanded technology that was on the extreme cutting edge in 1945.

The two different methods resulted in bombs that had different physical appearance. The implosion method required a large, spherical bomb, which was why the Nagasaki bomb was nicknamed "Fat Man". The gun method allowed a smaller, long, thin bomb, which was why the original uranium bomb dropped on Hiroshima was called "Little Boy". And yet the sketch of "Hitler's Bomb" shows a gun mechanism using plutonium. It wouldn't have worked.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: What Really Happened to the Submarine Kursk
Date:    Thu, 2 Jun 2005 16:18:35 -0500
From:    Charles Butler
To:      'Robert Bruce Thompson'

What Really Happened to the Submarine Kursk

New information has come to light about the Kursk disaster.  For those with short attention spans, the Kursk was the Russian submarine that blew up and sank in the Arctic Ocean killing all 118 on board.  The Russians tried to blame the incident on a collision with an unidentified object.  However, sonar tapes which recorded the blasts (a small one at first, then a much larger one two minutes later) cast doubt on these claims.

A whistle blower within the Russian military has leaked that the Kursk was testing a new type of torpedo when the accident occurred.  It seems  very likely that the test didn't go quite as planned.  While rescue efforts to save the survivors of the Kursk failed, salvage crews were able to recover a 'Black Box' from the submarine which contained detailed accounts of the events leading up to the explosion.  A copy of those tapes has recently come into the hands of NATO intelligence officers, one of whom leaked it to the press..

It turns out that the submarine crew was trying to load Microsoft Windows XP on their fire control computer.  Their intent was to replace the aging CP/M operating system with the flashier Windows OS. Apparently, the Russians didn't know about the legendary stability problems exhibited by Windows. The log tapes make this painfully obvious:

Transcript of Portions of the Kursk Log

Captain:  Is the new fire control Windows OS installed yet Comrade?

Seaman:  Almost Sir.  We just need to finish filling out the registration card.

Captain:  Excellent.  Soon we will be able to point and click our enemies into oblivion.  [evil laughter in background]

Seaman:  Comrade Captain! It is booting!  Look, it says 'Preparing to run Windows for the first time'.  [long pause]

Seaman:  Arrgh!  Sir, it wants me to reboot again. That makes the 27th time.

Captain:  Hmmm.  This is not encouraging.  Go ahead  and reboot again.

Seaman:  Aye aye, Sir.  [another long pause]

Seaman:  Captain, it is up again.  It says it found new hardware . . .  A CD-ROM drive and that it needs drivers.

Captain:  Where are the drivers?

Seaman:  On the CD-ROM.

Captain:  You are joking, no?

Seaman:  No Sir.

Captain:  Reboot the damn thing again.  I am starting not to like this Windows.  [another long pause]

Seaman:  Sir!  It is back!  It says it found the Gorby2000 Torpedo and is looking for the device drivers.  Do we have a driver disk?

Captain:  I do not think so.

Seaman:  I will tell it to use the default drivers.  [another long pause]

Seaman:  Crap.  It wants to reboot again.

Captain:  How many times are we going to reboot today?  This is taking forever.  Our hull is going to rust out before this works.  [another long pause]

Seaman:  Sir!  It is up and this time it is not asking for anything!

Captain:  Really?  No device drivers?  No registration cards?  No user profiles?

Seaman:  No Sir.  I think it is ready.

Captain:  Good work comrade.  Now click on the fire control icon and let us see how this works.

Seaman:  Clicking now, Sir.  [another long pause]

Captain:  Why does the fire control screen have a dancing paper clip on it?

Seaman:  I have no idea Sir.

Captain:  Hmmm, well try clicking on the menu.

Seaman:  Aye aye, Sir.  Let us see; Open E-mail, Spam a friend, Mail a Virus, Fire a Torpedo . . . .

Captain:  We will spam a friend later. L et us fire a torpedo.

Seaman:  Aye aye, Sir.  [another long pause]

Seaman:  It is asking us to load the torpedo and to click when ready.

Captain:  Torpedo room, load a torpedo in tube number 1!

Intercom:  This is the Torpedo room.  The torpedo is loaded Sir.

Captain:  Click on the continue button.

Seaman:  Aye aye, Sir.  [another long pause]

Seaman:  It is asking for a target Sir.

Captain:  Hmmm, target the Rainbow Warrior.

Seaman:  Aye aye, Sir.  Damn!  It says the torpedo is low on ink.

Captain:  Click ignore. W e will get some ink when we return to base.

Seaman:  Aye aye, Sir.  We are ready to fire.

Captain:  Very good.  You may fire when ready comrade.

Seaman:  Firing torpedo, Sir.  [another really long pause]

Captain:  Well?

Seaman:  I am trying Sir.  Nothing is happening.  Wait a minute . . . .

[Loud explosion in the background]

Intercom: [Screaming]

Captain:  What the fuck was that?!?!?

Seaman:  Captain!  A new screen has appeared!  It says, "Outlook Express Fire Control has performed an illegal operation and will be shut down.  Click 'OK' to continue."

Seaman:  Oh my God!  The paper clip has died!  What should I do?

Captain:  Shut it down!  Shut it down!

Seaman:  It is not responding, Sir!

Captain:  Try 'CTRL-ALT-DELETE'!

Seaman:  Aye aye, Sir.  . . . Sir! We are in luck!  The task manager is still operating.  I am instructing the task manager to shut down Outlook
Fire Control.  [another long pause]

Seaman:  The task manager says "Outlook Fire Control not responding."

Captain:  Well no shit.  Tell it to "End Task".

Seaman:  Nothing is happening Sir.

Captain:  Try 'CTRL-ALT-DELETE' again.

Seaman:  Aye aye, Sir.  [sounds of frantic pecking on keyboard.]

Seaman:  Oooh!  What a pretty blue screen!

Captain:  Holy $@#%!  Not the blue screen of death

[Loud explosion heard]

The tape ends at this point.  During the week long rescue effort, divers reported hearing tapping in Morse Code coming from survivors inside the damaged sub.  The rescuers couldn't understand why a group of men would spend the last of their strength tapping out "Windows Sucks!" in Morse.  The tapes of the last moments of the Kursk may offer some insight into this.

Heh. I wrote something similar on my journal page for 17 July 2000.

Thanks to several subscribers who sent me an article from the Wall Street Journal: WSJ.com - Sounds of Silencers Are Loud and Clear: PCs Are Too Noisy. It seems that silent PC issues are beginning to be featured even in the general news outlets.

And these from Bo Leuf:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Xandros SP2
Date: Fri, 03 Jun 2005 09:16:40 +0200
From: Bo Leuf
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

> ... Xandros 3 Service Pack 2 is huge ...

I was thinking that this might be due to the fact that the Debian "testing" distro is about to become the "stable" branch. Yesterday, Debian.org posted the rc6 release.

This means most of the testing branch has been frozen since about the beginning of this year, and Xandros may therefore have chosen to "update core" somewhat in advance of the official branch status change. I am assuming that Xandros 3 is already very much based on Debian "testing".

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Xandros SP2
Date: Fri, 03 Jun 2005 09:35:45 +0200
From: Bo Leuf
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

Sorry, not awake yet. I mangled my previous explanation, copied below. What I meant to say was Debian posted the *last* "stable" branch update *r6* in anticipation of the branch status change "testing" -> "stable".

Anyway, kernel change (which I believe the Xandros SP2 includes) means a lot of module changes and will by itself account for maybe 30-50 MB of files.

BTW -- Has Microsoft not registered "Service Pack" and "SP" as proprietary trademarks? Oversight? :)

Yes, I believe that's true. Xandros 3 is synched to Debian testing.


Saturday, 4 June 2005
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00:00 -


Sunday, 5 June 2005
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00:00 -


Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.