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Week of 26 September 2005

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Monday, 26 September 2005
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08:00 - Three weeks and counting until deadline. By Monday afternoon, 17 October, I must have the completed manuscript, with edits incorporated, off to Brian Jepson, my editor. Brian will do a final pass Monday night and all day Tuesday, and have the book to the production folks first thing Wednesday morning. The book should hit the stores in early January, which is a time of high book sales.

My job isn't over on the 17th, though. I'll receive numerous queries that I'll have to address, along with (probably) two quality-control passes. The QC1 PDFs are the book in its pretty much final form, including layout. I'll fix any minor errors that I missed earlier or that arose during the editing/layout process, and then eventually I'll get the QC2 PDFs. At that point, O'Reilly really hates any changes, and whatever few changes I do make are limited to stuff like correcting typos, nothing that might cause even a page break.

While all this is going on, I'll be working on the next book. The next two books, actually. Rather than do one book that would hit the stores during the summer dead period and another for a fall pub date, O'Reilly wants me to interleave work on both books so that both will hit the bookstores during the autumn season, when sales are high. So, for the last couple months of this year and the first half of next year, I'll be busy writing two books. They'll go into the production process in late spring or early summer, and arrive in the stores around this time next year, or perhaps a bit earlier. One of them will be a computer book and one an astronomy book, but further deponent sayeth not.

This current project is the third book I've done since I converted entirely to Linux on Independence Day, 4 July 2004. I was a bit concerned at first, thinking that using only Linux and Linux applications would make my day-to-day work harder, at least during a transition phase that I expected to last for some months. I was, after all, used to Windows and MS Word and not to Linux and StarOffice.

As it turned out, the transition phase lasted more like a day at most. Linux-based tools were at least as good as those I'd been using under Windows. Take screen captures, for example. I'd been using something called Collage Complete for years. One publisher sent me a copy back in about 1995, and I'd been using it ever since. The KDE ksnapshot utility was an easy replacement for Collage. Same deal with Irfanview versus xnview, and numerous other examples.

But the largest change for the better was moving from MS Word to StarOffice/OpenOffice.org. Functionally, SO/OOo is a complete replacement for MS Word, at least for my purposes, so that part was a wash. But, unlike Word, SO/OOo is reliable. I don't think I've done a single book in Word without having some severe problem. The Word-ate-my-document problem is the most obvious, and I don't think I managed to write even one book in Word where that didn't happen at least once, but the lack of minor day-to-day glitches in SO/OOo was just as important. If you've never used Word to do a large, complex document, you probably don't know what I'm talking about, but if you have, you probably do.

So, after about a year and three books, I'm not merely satisfied with Xandros Linux and StarOffice. I'm delighted. Migrating away from Microsoft software was a very good decision.


Tuesday, 27 September 2005
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08:50 - I see that Microsoft and Intel have endorsed HD-DVD, apparently leaving Blu-Ray out in the cold. In fact, these endorsements are a lot less significant than some news reporters seem to believe. Neither company is a player in the optical drive market. Microsoft, of course, uses optical drives in its Xbox game consoles, but it was a foregone conclusion that Microsoft would choose HD-DVD for the Xbox. Blu-Ray is, after all, a Sony standard, and Microsoft hates Sony. But as to these endorsements killing Blu-Ray, no, that's not going to happen. Blu-Ray is still the technically superior solution, and has the backing of a huge group of important companies, including the largest PC makers in the world. Blu-Ray is going to win this war.

The ineptness of some companies never ceases to surprise me. I was working on the Input Devices chapter yesterday, and I needed some product illustration shots. I went to the Press Room area on Microsoft's web site--a company that has no reason to like me--and found pages and pages of thumbnail images of their keyboards, mice, trackballs, and other hardware. Under each thumbnail were two links, one for a low-res jpeg image and one for a high-res tif image. I downloaded the images I needed and then emailed Microsoft's PR agency to verify that these images were copyright-cleared and that I could credit them in my usual style, "Image courtesy Microsoft Corporation." Within five minutes, I had email from the PR agency telling me that the images were copyright-cleared and that all Microsoft cared about was being credited for each image.

So, I went to Logitech's web site, located the Press Room area, and again found lots of thumbnails of keyboard and mouse images, again with links for low- and high-res versions. But instead of a direct download link, these links were labeled "Add to cart". Eh? I didn't want to buy the damned things. I just wanted to download them. But I clicked on one of the links, and got a new browser window that was blank. Thinking that perhaps Mozilla was causing the problem, I tried clicking on one of the links in Internet Explorer. Same thing, a blank page.

So I emailed the PR contact for keyboards and mice. Several hours later, I got a response from her, telling me that she'd send me a form that I needed to fill out, telling them all about how I planned to use the images and agreeing to their terms. Once I completed and signed that form, I had to fax it to their legal department, who'd approve or disapprove it. If they approved it, she'd send me links to download the images. I replied to her, saying, "Thanks, but that's much too much trouble for me to go to. I planned to use these images for general illustrations, so make and model isn't important. I'll simply use images provided by your competitors, which post copyright-cleared images for immediate download."

So, if any images of Logitech products appear in the book, it'll be because I shot them myself. Geez.


Wednesday, 28 September 2005
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09:45 - Pournelle called the other day to talk about a system he was building for his column. As usual, the conversation went far afield. We somehow ended up talking about the end days of the Roman Republic, Gaius Marius, Sulla, and so on. From there, we moved to Antony and Octavian and Actium, and thence to the HBO series Rome, which Jerry admires. I told him I was looking forward to seeing it, but we had only basic cable, so I'd put it in my Netflix queue.

We then somehow ended up talking about the late Empire and the withdrawal of the legions from Britannia. I mentioned Jack Whyte's Camulod Chronicles series, which is an excellent series of historical mysteries set about that time with the Arthurian legend written as straight historical fiction. That took us to Arthurian movies. I mentioned that, coincidentally, we'd just gotten First Knight, which is an Arthurian movie starring Sean Connery. Jerry hadn't seen it, but in turn recommended King Arthur, which I put in our Netflix queue.

King Arthur arrived yesterday, but was cracked all the way from the hub to the edge. That's my first damaged DVD from Netflix, but given their packaging I expect it won't be the last. I logged on to their site and reported that the disc had arrived cracked. They're sending out a new copy. Oh, well.


Thursday, 29 September 2005
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08:21 - Although the month isn't quite over, I can still report a reliable Netflix total for this, my second month of membership. I've received 17 discs so far, with one more due today for a total of 18. They shipped me another disc yesterday, but it must be coming from Lower Slobovia because its ETA is Saturday 1 October.

In August, they shipped me 25 discs with only minor throttling. This month is one day shorter and had a holiday and they've managed 18 discs, or 72% of last month's total. I'd call that moderate throttling. In every case, I've returned each disc the day after I received it, and in every case they've logged in each disc the next business day after I returned it, so they're not throttling incoming discs.

Instead, they're outbound throttling. In many cases, they didn't ship the next disc until the day after they received the preceding disc back, rather than shipping it the same day, and in a couple of cases they didn't ship the next disc until two days after they received the preceding disc. They've also started shipping some discs from distribution centers other than Greensboro, in order no doubt to take advantage of the extra day or two it takes for them to arrive here.

I always return discs in a Greensboro envelope regardless of where they shipped from, and when I have two discs to return I always return them both in one envelope to save Netflix postage charges. I wonder if they appreciate that.

So, 18 discs for the month is just over $1 per disc, which is pretty cheap. I have read tales of people on the 3-out-at-a-time plan who've been throttled down to nine or even six discs per month. We'll see.


Friday, 30 September 2005
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09:40 - The mice are trying to bell the cat again. I've said this before and no doubt I'll say it again: any country that's unhappy with the way the United States runs the Internet is perfectly free to opt out of our Internet and create its own Internet. The US created the Internet and has been nice enough to allow others to use it. Now some of those others have the chutzpah to demand ownership rights. I have a short answer for them, but I won't publish it because this is a family-friendly page.

If these other countries are so concerned about the US owning the Internet, why haven't they created their own Internets? The answer is obvious. They need the US, but the US doesn't need them. Perhaps it's time for us to demonstrate that. I can think of at least 100 countries that we could cut off without any noticeable loss to ourselves.

I'm busy right now, to say the least, but this was important enough for me to take a few minutes out of my day. I hope you'll do the same.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Massachusetts Enterprise Technical Reference Model initiative
Date: Thu, 29 Sep 2005 17:16:18 -0400
From: Robert Bruce Thompson <thompson@ttgnet.com>
To: Denny McGuire <denny.mcguire@ncmail.net>,  George Bakolia <george.bakolia@ncmail.net>, Rebecca Troutman <rebecca.troutman@ncacc.org>,  Bruce Garner <bgarner@mail.secstate.state.nc.us>, Haley Montgomery <hmontgomery@sosnc.com>,  Jim McManus <jmcmanus@sosnc.com>, Rodney Maddox <maddox@sosnc.com>,  Shannon Howle Schelin <Schelin@iogmail.iog.unc.edu>

As a citizen of North Carolina, I am writing to ask you to do whatever is within your power to encourage North Carolina government agencies to adopt measures similar to those recently implemented by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts with its Enterprise Technical Reference Model (ETRM) initiative.

As a former employee of the Forsyth County MIS Department, I understand the technical and financial challenges that state and local governments face in making public documents available to citizens and ensuring that those documents remain accessible in perpetuity. Massachusetts' decision to mandate truly open file formats such as the OASIS ODF and to exclude proprietary, IP-encumbered formats such as Microsoft's Office 12 XML schemas is a major and necessary step in ensuring that public documents are readily and permanently accessible to all of its citizens. I hope that North Carolina state and local governments are moving as quickly as possible to follow Massachusetts' lead on this critical issue.

Best regards,

Robert Bruce Thompson
<contact information removed>

If you don't know who to contact in your state, here's a good list. Not all states are represented, alas, but it's at least a starting point for some of us.


Saturday, 1 October 2005
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10:17 - Hmmmm. This ain't cool.

As usual, I fired up K3b to backup my working data set. Ordinarily, I start the backup running, minimize it, and go on with my work. (I'm backing up a copy of my working data rather than the live working data directory.) When the write completes, K3b ejects the disc, reloads it, and does the verify. This time, I went back to the bedroom to get dressed. As I returned a few minutes later, I heard the disc eject and figured the backup was complete. But obviously there was some kind of problem. I've gotten so used to these quick backups to DVD+RW running smoothly to completion that I was shocked when the backup failed.

It's probably a bad disc, but I'll reboot the system and try the same disc again just to be sure.

It's the first of the month, and I have until the 17th to get this book finished and ready to go to production. As usual, I'm going to make it.


Sunday, 2 October 2005
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