- Today is deadline day for Repairing
& Upgrading Your PC to go to production. We made it,
although a few weeks ago I thought we wouldn't. Now it's in the hands
of the O'Reilly production folks, who'll work their magic to turn the
manuscript into an attractive finished book.
There'll be queries, QC galley proofs, and so on to deal with, but now
the book is pretty much in their hands. I'll be posting the QC PDFs on
the subscriber page for those who want to follow the progress.
And now it's time to start on the next book. Actually, the next two
books. We'll interleave work on those two books, with the goal of
having both of them in the bookstores for the autumn selling season
next year. That means we'll be very busy for the next eight or nine
months getting those two books written and off to production. And by
that time, of course, we'll be starting another new book or two. It's a
treadmill, but it's a fun one.
I'd best get to work on the preliminaries, although I am going to cut
back a bit on my working hours for the next couple of weeks. I have
outlines to work on, product samples to request, and so on.
- I see that MS05-051,
Microsoft's latest critical patch, may kill
your system. Microsoft apparently didn't bother to test the patch
against systems with modified ACLs, which is a common security measure
employed by people who know what they're doing. So, in this case,
knowledgeable people who tried to secure their systems properly and
applied the patch as soon as it was released were the ones who
suffered. Of course, it's a matter of damned if you do and damned if
you don't, and Microsoft continues to recommend installing this flawed
Having been burned frequently in the past by Microsoft patches, my own
practice is to avoid installing Microsoft patches for as long as
possible, whenever possible. My systems operate behind a NAT router,
which by itself eliminates most of the potential vulnerabilities to
worms. The other major threats, viruses and browser exploits, are also
pretty easy to deal with. I don't run mail on Windows systems, but if I
did I'd use a non-Microsoft mail client with HTML message display
disabled and a good antivirus package like Grisoft AVG. I disable
everything in Internet Explorer and delete the scripting executables. I
install the Mozilla or Firefox browser and use it for everything. I
install Spybot Search & Destroy and AdAware and scan periodically
for malware, which I find only once every year or two, and that's
always been from malware intentionally bundled with manufacturer
distribution discs, such as the Logitech mouse driver.
The only time I've ever had a live infection on a system was many years
ago, when I got a message from Jerry Pournelle that was infected with
Melissa. Of course, nowadays I run Linux almost exclusively, so my
systems are inherently several orders of magnitude more secure than
- As incredible as it seems, we're short of computers around
here. Right now, other than test-bed systems, there are only three
systems running in the house--Barbara's office system, my office
system, and ripper, which used to be my den system. Of course, I have
parts galore in the stock room, so I could just build a system or two,
but I think I'll hold off until I have time to photograph and document
Fred is at
it again about Intelligent Design. Frankly, I'm disappointed in
him. He usually thinks and writes clearly, but on this particular
subject he wears blinders. It's worse than that, actually. Fred
intentionally distorts the issue, which, simply stated, is this:
Intelligent Design is not science. It is not a theory. It is not even a
hypothesis. Intelligent Design is thinly-disguised Creationism, and as
such has no place in a science classroom. No scientist recognizes
Intelligent Design as an alternative to Evolution, or indeed as
anything other than pseudoscience.
Evolution theory, despite the arguments of the ID zealots, makes no
claims about the origin of life, but only the origin of species.
Evolution is based on the mechanism of natural selection, which is not
in any doubt. We can actually watch natural selection occur, as for
example with bacteria developing resistance to particular drugs.
The ID folks sneer at Evolution as being "only a theory", with the
implication that the theory is unproven and therefore their ID garbage
is just as likely an explanation, if not more so. In science, a theory
is the next best thing to a fact. A fact, in case anyone is unclear
about the terminology, is something that has been observed. That the
sun rose this morning is a fact. That the sun will rise tomorrow is a
theory. Sadly, the vast majority of the public doesn't understand the
difference. If asked, they would state with certainty that the sun
rising tomorrow is a fact. And the ID zealots play upon this ignorance.
A theory must be falsifiable by observation. If the sun doesn't rise
tomorrow morning, our theory is falsified. We, as scientists, discard
that theory and propose another theory that fits observed facts. If the
sun does rise tomorrow morning, it proves our theory that the sun would
rise tomorrow morning, but it does not prove our extended theory that
the sun will rise on each successive morning. But, as the sun continues
to rise each morning, that provides another observed datum. As the sun
continues to rise, morning after morning, for hundreds, thousands, tens
of thousands, of mornings, that adds additional weight to our theory.
But our theory remains only a theory, not a fact. It can be falsified
very simply by the sun not rising one morning.
Evolution is just such a theory, supported by the weight of a huge
number of observed facts, all of which support the theory. Not one
observed fact, ever, has falsified evolution theory. If one had, we'd
be looking for a new theory.
Intelligent Design is not a theory, and there are no facts to support
it. None. Zero. Nor, of course, are there any facts to disprove it,
because by its nature as a non-theory, ID is not falsifiable.
The core argument of ID is the logical fallacy that a watch proves the
existence of a watchmaker. What we observe is so complicated, the ID
folks argue, that it couldn't possibly have arisen merely from the
random processes of nature. An Intelligent Designer must have created
it. But what ID ignores is that what is, is.
Consider four people sitting down to play bridge. The 52 cards are
dealt, 13 to each player. One player ends up with all 13 spades, the
second with all thirteen hearts, the third with all thirteen diamonds,
and the fourth with all thirteen clubs. Everyone knows instantly that
someone has stacked the deck, an Intelligent Designer, if you will. The
likelihood of that occurring is so vanishingly small that there must
have been an intelligence behind that outcome.
But consider this. The probability of your being dealt all 13 spades is
exactly the same as the probability of your being dealt any 13 specific
cards. Every hand, every deal, has exactly the same vanishingly low
probability of being dealt. By the arguments of the ID folks, it's
impossible that you can be dealt any hand at all randomly, because the
probability of your receiving any 13 specific cards is so small.
Just as we consider a hand of 13 spades to be "special", the ID folks
consider the world as it is to be special. But there's nothing
special about it. It simply is what is. Other than random chance,
there's no particular reason that we mammals ended up being the
dominant intelligent life form on this planet. It could just as easily
have turned out that lizards developed intelligence and mammals never
developed at all. And if that had happened, I don't doubt that we'd
have a bunch of ID lizards arguing that there must be a watchmaker.
Thursday, 20 October
- Someone asked over on the messageboard if it was any longer
worthwhile building a PC-based PVR/DVR system, when his alternative was
to pay Comcast $15/month for an integrated PVR. My answer was that it
For us, with analog cable and analog SD television sets, no kind
of PVR makes sense. We simply don't watch enough television to make it
worthwhile. Our best option is one of the $99 DVD recorders that have
replaced VCRs, substituting a recordable DVD disc for a VHS tape. For
people who watch a lot of television and have a digital cable or
satellite feed, I suspect the DVRs offered by the service providers are
the best bet, particularly since they're more often $5/month than
I see no place at all for the TiVo, and only a small niche
for home-built PVR/DVR systems. I'm debating right now whether to
include a PVR/HTPC system in the next edition of Building the Perfect PC. If we do
include it, it'll be a Linux/MythTV-based system. When we wrote the
first edition, the least expensive DVR recorder we found sold for $600
or $700, and one with embedded TiVo sold for $1,000, not including the
$300 subscription for program listings. At $1,300, we had a lot of room
to play. With optical-only DVD recorders now selling for $99, and DVD
recorders with a 100 GB hard drive for $350, we no longer have
that pricing umbrella.
- Step One was escaping from proprietary Microsoft applications
like Internet Explorer and MS Office in favor of OSS applications like
Mozilla and OpenOffice.org. Step Two was escaping from Microsoft
Windows by migrating our systems to Xandros Linux. I just took Step
Three yesterday, escaping from proprietary Microsoft document formats.
With the release of OpenOffice.org
2.0, it's official. We're now using ODF (OpenDocument Format)
exclusively, and have no intention of using any proprietary Microsoft
formats ever again. Of course, we were already well along that path.
The last two or three books we've done were in OOo 1.1 .sxw format. The
last book we did in .doc format was the first edition of Building the Perfect PC, and I'm
regretting that choice now as I clean up the mess, trying to get
chapters ready to edit for the new edition that's due out about a year
I'm already working with O'Reilly to make sure our change to .odt for
documents won't present any problems to our editors or to their
design/layout folks. O'Reilly already has a macro that
adds a custom O'Reilly formatting menu, so I'm perfectly content with
I'll gradually convert all our old legacy .doc and .xls files to ODF,
but otherwise proprietary MS formats are banned from our systems
starting today. When I post new chapters for my subscribers to look at,
they'll be as .odt and .pdf files, but not as .doc files.
Conversion won't be trivial, but I do want to convert everything so
that I'll be able to open all these files a year from now, or twenty
years from now. Just a quick perusal of our archive directories shows
that we already have quite a few files, including some very old
Microsoft format files, that are effectively orphaned, not openable by
any software we now have access to. Others, including some old
WordPerfect files, are still readable by a few applications, but are in
danger of extinction.
I did a quick
search of our hard drives for Microsoft proprietary document files, and
was surprised to
find 8,900 listed. As you can see, each file is listed three times,
although it's actually stored on disk only twice. The archive directory
is located on Barbara's system, and the archiveback directory on
system. My system has a mapping to /archive on Barbara's system and
also has a mapping to the root of Barbara's system, so each file
that's on her hard drive shows up twice. Even so, there are nearly
3,000 unique .doc files, which surprised me. I wonder if there's a
batch convert utility for OOo 2.0 that will sweep directories for .doc
files, open them, and save them as .odt files.
Excel files are a smaller problem. The search listing for .xls showed
only 635 files, so that probably translates to just over 200 unique
Saturday, 22 October
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All