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Week of 12 September 2005

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Monday, 12 September 2005
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08:20 - The Death March has begun. I have exactly five weeks to finish the book, so I'll be working straight through every day for the next 35 days to get it done. No time to write much here; no time to do much with mail other than acknowledge it; no time to post on the messageboards. I've barely time to eat and sleep.

I have a 19" flat-panel display arriving today from NewEgg. I'll take time to connect it, because I need to do that for the book. Otherwise, it'd stay in its box until the book was complete.

I've posted Chapter 5, Memory, and Chapter 6, Hard Disk Drives, on the subscribers' web page.

14:30 - The Samsung 930BF 19" flat-panel display arrived. I had it set up and working within half an hour, including some time playing around with analog versus digital. Let me warn you; if you've bought an analog 19" flat-panel and are happy with it, don't ever look at a digital 19" flat-panel. The difference is immediately obvious. With a 17" FPD, the analog/digital difference is subtle, although I still prefer digital at 17". At 19", the difference is huge.

The Samsung 930BF is gorgeous. I thought I had one dead pixel near the bottom center of the screen, but that turned out to be a tenacious bit of the Styrofoam packing material. The brightness is extraordinary, and the contrast is excellent. I haven't even made an attempt to optimize the image. It's good enough at default that I'll probably wait until the book is finished before I play around with it much.

I have this display connected to my primary office system, which runs Xandros Linux, so I have no serious games to test it with. However, it does fine with other types of fast-motion video, including DVD video. No smearing, ghosting, or other artifacts. At about $450, this display costs about twice what a decent 19" CRT monitor would cost, and the CRT would likely last longer, but this is one very nice display.

I sit in front of my display for probably an average of 200 hours per month. This display has a 3-year warranty on parts, labor, panel, and backlight. If it dies one day after the warranty expires, it will have cost me about 6 cents an hour to use it, which is cheap enough.


Tuesday, 13 September 2005
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10:30 - I just returned from a visit to the dentist to have my fangs cleaned.

I ended up turning down the brightness on the Samsung 930BF flat-panel display. The factory ships it with brightness set to 100 and contrast to 75. I generally work in a darkened room, so 100 was a bit too bright. I turned it down to 50 and everything still looks bright, but not glaring.

The weird thing about using the FPD is that lines appear to be curved as if the center of the display were concave. This is an optical illusion, but so strong that I actually placed a ruler against the screen to verify that straight lines were in fact straight. I guess it's because I'm so used to my old 19" Hitachi CRT, which isn't flat. My brain apparently accepted the convex surface of the CRT as flat, so now it sees something that's truly flat as concave. Oh, well. Today, the lines on the FPD appear a lot straighter, and I'm sure my brain will eventually adjust.

NetFlix no longer appears to be throttling me. We'll see if that continues.


Wednesday, 14 September 2005
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08:15 - Work continues on the book, but I'm beginning to see the train at the end of the tunnel.

Although I'm looking forward to finishing this book, I remind myself that as soon as I finish this one, I have another one to get started on, and then another beyond that. Still, all of them should be fun to write, so I'm not complaining.


Thursday, 15 September 2005
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09:20 - Still heads-down writing. I posted Chapter 3, Motherboards, to the subscribers' web page yesterday. I'm starting work on Chapter 4, Processors, today. This is kind of fun, in the same sense that running a marathon must be fun, not that I've ever run a marathon.

Speaking of marathons, our friend Mary, who is a marathon runner, stopped by yesterday evening to drop off some DVDs she'd borrowed. I envy her her physical conditioning. If I were in even 10% of her shape, I'd still be playing tennis. As it is, Barbara won't let me pick up a racket, because, as she says, she doesn't want to be a widow.

And speaking of tennis, I got to thinking while watching the U.S. Open about whether Federer has already joined the list of the best tennis players of all time. That got me to thinking about my own top 10 list, which I think is as follows:

1. Bill Tilden
2. Pancho Gonzalez
2. Ellsworth Vines
4. Don Budge
4. Rod Laver
6. Pete Sampras
6. Lew Hoad
8. Roger Federer
9. Jimmy Connors
9. Bjorn Borg
9. John McEnroe

Which I think is pretty definitive. Tilden was in a class by himself. For a period of more than seven years, he never lost an important match, and that was against some serious competition. When Tilden was in his 40's and 50's (!), he was still winning matches from guys like Ellsworth Vines, Don Budge, Jack Kramer, and Pancho Gonzales, who were 20 and 30 years his juniors.

Many people who are well-qualified to have an opinion would argue that Gonzalez or Vines were the best ever. For about eight years in the 50's, Gonzalez dominated all comers, to the extent that the pro tour briefly changed the rules to forbid serve and volley. Vines simply blew people off the court, including the best players of the time. After the Wimbledon final one year, Bunny Austin famously said that he'd literally not seen the ace from Vines that ended the match.

Then there's Don Budge, who won the first-ever Grand Slam, and who dominated amateur tennis as Tilden and Vines had done before turning pro. Budge is mostly forgotten today, largely because WWII cut short his career. Had he had the opportunity to play out a full career, he'd be widely recognized as one of the true greats. And Rod Laver. Laver turned pro after his 1962 Grand Slam, and then repeated for a second Grand Slam at his first opportunity, in 1969. Many people believe that Laver would probably have won Wimbledon eight times in a row had he not turned pro and become ineligible to compete in amateur events. He might also have won several more Grand Slams.

Pete Sampras's accomplishments are familiar to any tennis fan today, but Lew Hoad, who was Sampras's equal, is pretty much forgotten. Gonzales, who played and regularly beat the greatest players of his time, thought that Hoad was the best player who'd ever lived. Then we have Roger Federer, who has dominated the men's game for the last couple of years, making first-rate players like Roddick, Hewitt, and Agassi look bad by comparison. And who could forget that great troika of the 70's and 80's, Connors, Borg, and McEnroe?

It's interesting that seven of the eleven players listed are Americans, along with two Australians, a Swede, and a Swiss.


Friday, 16 September 2005
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09:35 - Okay, it's time for an admission. The New Orleans catastrophe was all my fault. Yes, it's true. I take complete responsibility.

I feel safe in doing that, because I know that nothing bad will happen to me. After all, we have the example of George W. Bush, who took responsibility. He proved it by canning his FEMA director. Then we have the governor of Louisiana. Ms. Blanco took responsibility, too, and, like Bush, she's still drawing her paycheck. Even the contemptible Mr. Nagin, the mayor of what used to be New Orleans, has supposedly taken responsibility (although I was unable to find any confirmation of that as of when I wrote this last night.) And Mr. Nagin is still mayor of what passes for the city of New Orleans.

Here's some advice for politicians. Taking responsibility means taking responsibility. I understand that that concept is entirely alien to a politician, so let me give some examples of what it means to take responsibility. First, the phrase that should immediately follow "I take responsibility" should be, "and therefore I resign my position, effective immediately." That's a minimum. If you really want to take responsibility, the Japanese have a traditional ceremony that would prove your sincerity.

If you look up the word chutzpah in a good dictionary, you'll find the entry is illustrated with a photo of Bill Gates. But Mr. Gates has again surpassed himself. If you think back to three years ago, corporate IT folks were outraged by the new Microsoft Licensing Six program, which cost the world and promised nothing. And, for those who were foolish enough to sign up for Licensing Six, nothing is pretty much what they got.

After paying for the software originally, people who signed up for Licensing Six have paid anything up to 33% per year for the last three years--which is to say 100% of the original cost of their software--and in return received next to nothing. Now, with those terms near expiration, Microsoft is trying to convince corporate suckers to sign up again, with again no promises. These people, who paid good money in the expectation of getting Longhorn and Office 12, instead got Office 2003, a very minor point upgrade. That and some training coupons. Longhorn is still far off in the future, and Microsoft offers no guarantee that anyone who reups their software assurance will receive Vista or Office 12.

The smartest IT folks opted out the first time. Only very stupid ones will opt in this time. Incredibly, Microsoft is pitching renewal as a way of preserving the original investment, when of course it's actually throwing good money after bad. As they say, fool me once, shame on me. But if you try to fool me twice, you must be Microsoft.

Vista is a bad deal all around. If it actually ships on time (Microsoft-speak for three or four years late), most corporations won't be prepared to deploy it anyway. Vista will run properly on probably less than 1% of current corporate desktop systems. Many corporations completed their first post-Y2K hardware upgrade cycle only last year, and aren't likely to be ready for another in time for Vista. And make no mistake. Vista will require all new hardware. To take advantage of its feature set, plan on a fast dual-core processor, at least 1 GB of RAM (2 GB is better), and, incredibly, a 256 MB DX9 graphics card with serious horsepower. Think nVIDIA 6800GT or better. Oh, yeah, you'll also want SATA hard drives with NCQ support in all your systems.

So why would any sane IT manager renew his software assurance license with Microsoft. No sane IT manager would, and that doesn't bode well for the future of Vista or Microsoft.

The new Samsung 930BF flat panel display was just a bit too low for me. I work pretty close to the display, and at times the image near the bottom of the display was poor because of the extreme viewing angle. I mentioned it to Barbara this morning, asking if she had any junk books I could use to raise the display. She didn't, but she did say she had a monitor stand somewhere. She wasn't able to locate it before she left for work, so I resigned myself to waiting until she got home.

Then, as I entered my office, my eye fell on the bookshelves that line one wall. What should I spot there but an old (10th edition) of Mueller's Upgrading and Repairing PCs. It looked to be the perfect thickness--3" to 4"--so I put it under the display base. Sure enough, it raises the display to the perfect height for me.

Now, there's irony. Using Mueller's book to raise my display so that I can write a competing book.


Saturday, 17 September 2005
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08:28 - To paraphrase Everett Dirkson, "a few hundred billion here, a few hundred billion there. Pretty soon, you're talking about real money."

Our fearless leader, George W. Bush, not satisfied with having wasted hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars in Iraq, is now planning to waste hundreds of billions more to rebuild the areas devastated by Katrina. Not just to rebuild them, mind, but to wipe out poverty and injustice. I'm considering moving to New Orleans. Perhaps Mr. Bush will give me a billion or two of the taxpayer funds he plans to waste there.

By the end of his second term, George Bush, supposedly a conservative Republican, will have increased the federal deficit by approximately two trillion dollars. That's $2,000,000,000,000, or more than $6,000 for every man, woman, and child in the US. Please tell me the difference between Mr. Bush and a liberal Democrat. I sure don't see any. Moving to Mexico is beginning to sound very attractive.

I'm working today, as usual. Barbara and I had planned to go to the zoo. Her firm planned a zoo outing, and provided tickets. Alas, I can't afford to lose the day, so Barbara invited our friend Bonnie Richardson. I hope they have a good time. I wish I were going.


Sunday, 18 September 2005
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