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Week of 4 July 2005

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Monday, 4 July 2005
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Happy Birthday USA!

09:02 - Nailed it! These images show Comet 9P/Tempel just before impact and just after impact.

Comet 9P/Tempel before and after impact

The comet brightened by about 2 magnitudes, well less than the 4 to 5 magnitudes I'd hoped for, but very close to the 2 to 3 magnitude flare I'd predicted. We were clouded out, of course, but even if we hadn't been the comet set just before impact. Alas, the forecasts say we'll be clouded out this evening as well, so we won't get to see the comet until at least tomorrow evening.

Barbara and I took some time off for the holiday weekend. Friday afternoon, we headed up to the Wake Forest University Lodge at Fancy Gap, Virginia on an observing field trip. The forecasts were all pretty pessimistic, but we figured it was worth a shot. No miracle occurred, alas, so we just sat around with several friends who'd also made the trip and talked until late. We only had the Lodge reserved for Thursday and Friday nights, so Saturday morning we turned around and drove home.

One disturbing event occurred. Our friend Mary Chervenak is a Marathoner in the original sense. She runs 7 to 14 miles every morning. She got up early Saturday morning to run. Running on the back road that leads to the lodge, she was confronted by a pack of dogs that blocked her way and showed their fangs at her. She backed off and headed back to the lodge, and the dogs let the matter drop. Still, if she goes running again up there, Paul and I will accompany her in a vehicle. I told Paul he could drive and I'd shoot.

It's raining now, and Barbara is out doing yard work. She had a load of mulch delivered Friday, and she's out spreading it. Duncan and Malcolm are helping, Duncan by supervising and Malcolm by eating mulch.

12:00 - The face of evil.

The Canadians are releasing Karla Homolka today, although she has served only 12 years in prison. Homolka and her then-husband, Paul Bernardo, shook the complacency of Canadians, who until then thought serial killers were exclusively a US phenomenon. Homolka is, if anything, worse than the worst US serial killers. They at least generally killed strangers. Homolka raped and killed her own 15-year-old sister, among other teenage girls. The CNN/AP article is surprisingly explicit:

"Months after prosecutors made the so-called "deal with the devil," Bernardo's attorneys handed over homemade videotapes by the couple. One indicated Homolka had offered up Tammy as a Christmas gift to Bernardo in 1990; it showed Homolka performing oral sex on her unconscious sister after slipping sleeping pills in her alcohol. Tammy died choking on her own vomit."

So now Homolka is to be released. She fears for her personal safety. Well, duh. Her lawyers are in court today, trying to convince the judge to ban the media from reporting her whereabouts once she is released. I don't know about Canadian law, but in the US people have a right to know when a violent, predatory sex offender is released into their community. It seems to me that Canadians should also have the right to know that such a monster is now in their midst.

'"I believe some people wish to do the public a favor by killing me," Homolka said in an affidavit accompanying the request for a media ban. "The thought of being relentlessly pursued, hunted down and followed when I won't have any protection makes me fear for my life."'

And isn't that a shame? If I had the opportunity to do so and thought I could get away with it, I'd kill her myself. And, although Canadians are known as a peaceful people, I hope that at least one Canadian is presented with and takes advantage of the opportunity to rid the world of a monster.


Tuesday, 5 July 2005
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10:00 - O'Reilly tells me that the review copies of Astronomy Hacks went out last week, so if you're one of the lucky winners you should be receiving your copy in the next few days, if you haven't already.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: An end to innovation
Date: Sat, 02 Jul 2005 22:05:09 -0500
From: Chris Christensen
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

Robert: Found this on /.

Huebner claims that innovation peaked over a century ago.  Do you think
that a decrease in innovation might be the result of ip restraints?


I don't agree with his premise, his assumptions, his methods, or his conclusion. He reminds me of the guy back in about 1890 who wanted to shut down the patent office because he thought everything worth inventing had already been invented. Look at what has been invented since his supposed peak, and you'll find that nearly everything that matters postdates it. Radio and television, aircraft, nuclear power, antibiotics, pesticides, plastics, space flight, computers, the Internet, etc., etc. And everything that devolves from them.

A warning from John Ricketsen:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Sophisticated Spoof
Date: Mon, 04 Jul 2005 01:54:57 -0700
To: <list suppressed>

Gentlemen -

This morning (03/05) ~0800 I had occasion to log into my bank, NetBank. Punched their bookmark - and Surprise! A page with the Comcast (my BB ISP) logo came up, instructing me to shut off all firewalls, AV apps, Ad Killers, Anti-Spam apps, etc. and press the DOWNLOAD button to begin downloading the upgrade.

Whoa! Wait just a minute, Charlie. This does NOT sound right! I immediately killed the page, and got on the pipe to Comcast. After a brief wait and conversation I was bumped up to a Level 3 Techie, who stepped me through a modem and computer shutdown & reboot, while he did some things at Comcast's end.

Problem solved. No more "Comcast" messages. Still can't log in to the secure areas of my bank - but that's likely because of damage control & repair at the bank's end.

POINT: Be VERY careful out there. This is one - of the very few - That Panda AV & Firewall, Anti-Spam, etc. didn't catch before it had an opportunity to do damage. And Panda is, IMO, the best of breed. The Goblins are getting VERY sophisticated.

10:47 - Mary Chervenak came through, as I knew she would, with pictures of her drawers. Here's the first one, with more to follow over the coming days:

Mary Chervenak's drawers

Knowing Mary, I wonder if the labels on the drawers were there before she decided to take the pictures...


Wednesday, 6 July 2005
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09:33 - I've gotten several emails from readers who mention this article about the parent company of Plextor threatening an open-source software developer. I have no idea what is going on. I have twice mailed my contacts at Plextor and its PR agency, once several weeks ago when the story first broke and again yesterday, but haven't received a response.

Frankly, none of this makes any sense to me. Plextor is not known for being hostile to OSS, and I don't understand why they'd be upset with the OSS developer for his actions, let alone threaten a law suit. I'm taking a wait-and-see approach here. One of the comments with the article raises some important points:

"Are we absolutely sure this is for real?

After all, it was only an e-mail (and we all know how easy they are to spoof), the promised snail mail never arrived, the e-mail has copious typos, factual errors, bad grammar and dodgy legal reasoning, the projects havn't bothered trying to reply to Plexor so obviously haven't had the e-mail verified, the treatened dealine has passed and not a peep has been heard when normally the vultures would be descending by now, and Newsforge has been unable to get a comment out of Plexor.

Wouldn't be the first time someone's run a spoof legal threat."

Which pretty much sums up my thinking about this. It may well be that Plextor's legal advisors have told them not to make any comment pending an investigation.

Here, as promised, is an image of Mary Chervenak's Light-colored socks drawer:

Mary Chervenak's drawers

09:50 - This just in. The EU Parliament dealt Microsoft and the other IPigs a massive defeat, rejecting software patents by a vote of 648 to 14. Hooray for the EU Parliament.

I wish the US congress would follow the EU lead and overhaul our patent laws to eliminate software patents--not to mention slashing copyright and patent terms to just a few years--but that's hardly likely to happen when so many of our senators and representatives have been bought and paid for by Microsoft and the other IPigs.

Make no mistake. All of the efforts to pass software patent laws are backed by Microsoft and aimed at OSS in general and Linux in particular, pure and simple. Microsoft realizes that it can't compete with OSS on a level playing field, so it is doing everything possible to make sure that playing field is anything but level. The same is true of Microsoft's efforts to change the patent laws from first-to-invent to first-to-file. Such a change would favor Microsoft and other large corporations, who can afford patent attorneys, patent searches, and patent filing fees. It would harm individuals and small businesses, including Linux developers, who would see their inventions stolen from them and patented by Microsoft.

People laughed at me a few years ago when I said that I expected Microsoft's next move would be to make Linux illegal, but that is indeed what has transpired. It's fortunate that the EU lawmakers saw the man behind the curtain.


Thursday, 7 July 2005
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11:45 - We're under a tornado watch and a flood watch through late afternoon today. The remnants of Cindy are supposed to come through the area this afternoon. We've been told to expect anything up to 3+ inches of rain today and tonight.

Barbara pointed this out to me in the paper this morning:

Mary Chervenak's drawers

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: EU software patent vote
Date: Wed, 6 Jul 2005 21:41:38 -0000 (UTC)
From: Bo Leuf
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

> It's fortunate that the EU lawmakers saw the man behind the curtain.

Strictly speaking, the EU parliament (EUP) is not the law-making body. It is the European Commission (EC) and its appointed commissioners who decide on legislation for the EU. The electoral EUP has been overrun more than once by the EC, and the EUP votes are at best advisory only.

The reject vote here was so massively against, however, and the debate so fierce, that evidently the EC decided not to press the issue. It has already been roundly criticized for its rewrites of the original proposal and its disregard for previous EUP opinion and bill revisions. The EC could still have passed the legislation but would then run the risk of non-compliance by member states, which would then further undermine an already shakey union.

That said, we are pleased on this side of the pond.


-------- Original Message --------
Subject: daynote: EU patents
Date: Wed, 06 Jul 2005 22:11:18 -0800
From: Jan Swijsen
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

[quote]...It's fortunate that the EU law-makers saw the man behind the curtain. [/quote]

I don't think that EU law-makers are any better than their US colleagues. Most don't really understand what's going on here. But the EU situation is a bit different from the US.

The European Commission (EC) is a kind of government composed and appointed by the member-governments. They are the law-makers. The European Parliament (EP), mostly directly elected, doesn't really make the laws and until recently has never played a strong role.  In February the EP voted -not overwhelmingly- against the proposed law. And the EC arrogantly shrugged ignored the EP vote. This pissed off most of the EP members.

So todays vote is partially against the patent stuff and mostly just against the EC-arrogance.

Still a vote to be applauded.

True, and I understand that the lopsided vote occurred because Microsoft and the other IPigs threw their weight in that direction because the proposed law didn't give them as much as they wanted. Still, it's good that US-style software patents were so soundly defeated.

13:39 - The bastards are at it again, this time in London, where they've slaughtered more than three dozen innocent people and injured many more. I think I speak for all Americans when I offer our profound sympathies to our British friends.

I hope that Britain will have the balls to do what the US should have done on 9/12 and should do now: expel all foreign Islamics, including diplomats, and institute a close watch on Islamic citizens. Give foreign Islamics one week to depart, and treat any who remain as outlaws in the original wolfshead sense--anyone is free to kill them without fear of legal consequences.

That Britain and the US have not already expelled these foul creatures is the result of a misguided fear that doing so would be perceived as religious persecution. In fact, Islam is not and never has been a religion, other than by self-proclamation. Islam is a totalitarian political system with the trappings of a religion. It should be treated as we would treat any totalitarian political system that attacks us. We should destroy it. When will people realize that we are at war with Islam? Not Osama bin Laden, not Islamic terrorists, not Al Queda, not even Saudi Arabia, but Islam itself.

15:20 - I just posted the following rant on the Xandros Forums:

I am utterly fed up with any version of Xandros 3 that uses the SP2 updates and the 2.6.11 kernel, including X3BE. I am convinced that there is something seriously borked with the SP2 updates, the 2.6.11 kernel, or both.

I had zero problems with X3 Deluxe, and I have had nothing but problems since I've installed the later versions on our production systems. The problems have manifested on every system I've installed these later X3 versions on, all of which are recent Intel-based system with completely standard hardware--Intel motherboards, Seagate hard drives, Plextor optical drives, and so on. There's nothing odd about any of the connected hardware, and the number and severity of the problems I've encountered lead me to believe that the problem is systemic.

Most of the problems have to do with XFM, although I've also experienced optical drives that go missing for no apparent reason, applications that simply close abruptly, and so on. This on systems that are fully updated on XN and have zero non-Xandros software installed.

I have been using Xandros all day long every day for more than a year. X2.0 and X2.5 were rock solid, and X3Deluxe seemed the same until I installed the SP2 update and the 2.6.11 kernel. Everything since then has been a disaster. Reading these fora, I see that I am by no means alone, although many people seem to be having no problems. I can't understand that, because the problems I'm having manifest on every system I've installed the recent versions on, which is quite a few.

At this point, I'm thinking about spending the time necessary to revert to X3Deluxe, although I resent having to do so. But the later versions of X3 are costing me a lot of time every day that I can't afford to be wasting. Even Windows would be better than what I have now. Or I may just bag Xandros entirely and convert to MEPIS or Kubuntu. Just about anything would be better than this mess I have now.

People sometimes accuse me of being biased against Windows and in favor of Linux. Well, I calls 'em as I sees 'em, and right now I'm extremely unhappy with Xandros.


Friday, 8 July 2005
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10:24 - The remnants of Cindy blew through here yesterday afternoon and evening. We were under a tornado watch from morning until afternoon, and a tornado warning in mid-afternoon. There were several funnel clouds spotted in the immediate vicinity, including one only five or eight miles from our house, but none touched down. We'd gotten about 2" of rain by dinner time.

In late afternoon, Paul called me to tell me that Mary had made it back safely from her business trip to Cary, NC. She arrived home around 4:00 or 4:30 to find that they'd lost power and there was a small tree down in their driveway. We'd earlier agreed to meet for dinner last night, but earlier in the afternoon I'd told Paul that Barbara and I would probably stay at home instead. By late afternoon, though, the worst of it seemed to have passed, and Paul called back to say that since they were without power he and Mary planned to go out for dinner anyway. I called Barbara, who'd had a terrible day at work, and she said she'd prefer to go out, despite the continuing heavy rains and thunderstorms.

We had dinner at a Mexican place nearby, and I told Barbara, Paul, and Mary about a disturbing experience I'd had. Wednesday night, Barbara went back to bed around 9:00, just after we'd walked the dogs. Around 10:00 or 10:30, I was reading a mystery novel, and decided to check the CNN and Fox web sites for news about the London transport bombings. I though it was odd that neither one of them was reporting anything about the bombings of the underground and bus system, but eventually I went back to the bedroom and eventually got to sleep.

Thursday morning, I checked again, and of course news of the bombings was all over the web. It wasn't until I noticed that the sites were reporting that the bombings had occured at 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. our time Thursday morning that it hit me. I'd "remembered" something several hours before it happened. That really weirded me out.

As a scientist, I don't believe in premonitions. I don't understand much about time, even after reading Hawkings' book, but I think I understand that time runs forward, not backward, which would violate entropy. After thinking it through last night, I think Paul's explanation is probably the correct one. I'd read a lot of news articles earlier in the week about the competition for the 2012 Olympics, and I must have read an article somewhere that mentioned the danger of terrorist attacks on the London transport system. I somehow internalized that as something that had happened rather than something that might happen.

I'll keep this experience in mind as a data point, because scientists are loathe to discard any data, no matter how far outside expectations it may be. But I believe there's always a rational explanation for premonitions, deju vu, and so on. If someone remembers the internal layout of a house he thinks he'd never been in previously, for example, that tells me that he probably knew that house when he was very young and his family subsequently moved away from the area. Someone who believes he's reincarnated and has memories to prove it probably read about those "memories" in a book years ago, and eventually forgot about reading the book. One way or another, there's a rational explanation, although it's always harder to track that down than to believe in woo-woo stuff.

Ron Morse posted a good response on the messageboard to my rant about Xandros:

The Xandros problem is in SP-2.  

I've had the same disappearing drive problem that Robert reported with his optical, except mine is a hard drive. The problem manifests on Deluxe 3 post SP-2 under both 2.6.9 and 2.6.11 and under both single and SMP versions of each release.

I'll bet that Robert's problem optical is a P-ATA drive with Xandros installed to a S-ATA hard drive.

SP-2 is, alas, shit on a stick.  

I've reverted to Xandros 3 Deluxe but not installed SP-2 and enjoy a machine works perfectly (well, Firefox was a little strange for a minute or two earlier today but seems to have settled down).

I now regard anything offered from XN with deep suspicion. Most things that are not broken do not get updated and the ones that do are examined closely before installing (apt-get works a lot better than XN in this mode because it will do "test" runs that don't actually change the system state so you can see exactly what is getting installed.)

So, I am back to a working machine but the special functionality that led me to pay for Xandros in the first instance is unreliable and cannot be trusted.  

BTW...reverting the machine was pretty easy...boot off the distribution install CD and tell the menu to replace the existing Xandros installation.  The existing /home/user directory is preserved (/home/user.old) and most of the settings that don't automagically get carried over can just be copied back over their analogs on the new install. Took about an hour from start to fininsh and a big part of that was reinstalling k3b from source which is easy but takes a long time.

The real spur gear in the rice pudding on this one is that I reported this to support, who until now have been very responsive and helpful.  So far I have not heard a single peep beyond the automated response. That is unacceptable.

You're correct about the optical drive problem. It's on a system with two S-ATA hard drives and a P-ATA Plextor PX-708 DVD burner.

Today, I'm going to "backgrade" my main system from Xandros 3 Deluxe with SP2 and the 2.6.11 kernel to Xandros 3 Deluxe with no patches. Barbara is leaving early tomorrow morning on a day-trip with our friend Bonnie Richardson to attend the Highland Games. While she's gone, I'll backgrade her system from Xandros 3 Business Edition to X3 Deluxe with no patches.


Saturday, 9 July 2005
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Sunday, 10 July 2005
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