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Week of 7 November 2005

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Monday, 7 November 2005
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08:20 - There's been some discussion recently over on the messageboard about desktops and RAID 1. Ron Morse, whose opinion I greatly respect, thinks that RAID 1 has no place on desktop systems. Many others agree with him. I disagree, in part, and I'll tell you why.

I've made the point in several books and elsewhere that RAID 1 is not a replacement for backing up. Given a choice between RAID 1 and no backups versus no RAID 1 and regular backups, the latter wins every time. And in fact we don't run RAID 1 on any of our primary desktop systems here, although we play with it periodically on test-bed systems. Instead, we have a rigorous, belt-and-suspenders backup system in place. If the hard drive on any of our primary desktop systems failed, I could have that system back up and running with essentially no data lost in an hour or less, and that includes installing the new hard drive.

I suspect the same is true for many, perhaps most, of my readers, and they need RAID 1 no more than we do. For us and for people like us, Ron Morse is right: RAID 1 makes little sense. But none of us is average. We back up our data, which puts us in a very elite group, probably less than 1% of the computer-using population.

Most ordinary computer users have never backed up their data. Not even once. They regard the computer as a magical box, into which they pour gigabyte upon gigabyte of important information, with no thought of a hard drive failure. Digital camera images, email, their financial records, and so on. All of this goes into the black box. One day, as we all know, their hard drives are going to fail, and those people will have no backup of their data. Their photographs, email, financial records, and other important personal data will be gone, gone, gone.

These people compute with no safety net, and for them RAID 1 is much better than nothing. Might they lose their data to a virus, worm, or other malware or to simple ham-handedness? Certainly, but for them those are not the major threats. For them, the looming threat is hard drive failure. And they are completely clueless about that threat. People have asked me to recover data from a failed hard drive, admitting that they suspected something was wrong when the hard drive started getting noisy or returning error messages a week or a month before it failed completely. And yet they did nothing until the hard drive failed catastrophically.

It's easy to look upon people like this with contempt, telling yourself that stupidity deserves to be punished, but the fact is that these people aren't stupid. They're simply ignorant. They don't understand the threat or take it seriously. Even if you take the trouble to set up a backup program for them and teach them how to use it, they mostly won't. For them, hard drive failure is a distant and unlikely danger. They have so many demands on their time that, even if they have the best intentions, backing up moves far down their personal priority lists. And so you're left to clean up the mess as best you can.

It's a lot easier to clean up that mess if the system has a RAID 1. Of course, it's quite possible that someone will ignore the frantic warnings that the system displays when one hard drive fails, and you'll end up trying to recover data from a RAID 1 system with two failed hard drives, but if that happens you've at least done what you could to save your friends and family members from their own ignorance.

So, yes, I think RAID 1 has a place on some desktop systems, and no one will convince me otherwise.

I have a lot to get done this week, including copyedits on the new book, working on chapters for the newer books, and finishing up an article for Make Magazine..

11:52 - Many of my friends and colleagues believe we are watching the opening stages of a new French Revolution. I disagree, at least in the short term. The Islamics have not yet gained critical mass. This is a full-dress rehearsal, but nothing more. The real revolution will take place in perhaps five or ten years. Perhaps as long as twenty years, although I doubt it will take that long.

It is still within France's power to stop its slide into chaos, but that won't happen. France does not have the political will to take the required actions. If France gave Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy a free hand, there might be some hope. But it won't and there isn't. France will be destroyed, sooner or later, by the Islamic hordes. As will most of the rest of Western Europe, which has been foolish enough to welcome Islamic vipers to its bosom.

As usual, Fred Reed is on point.

Moslems in particular are poison. A failed civilization, Islam sends its unsuccessful, thus double failures, to Europe. They gravitate to slums because they can do nothing else. Cohesive, angry, ineffectual, with no loyalty to their new home, they neither flourish nor assimilate. Resentment grows among them. And so the cities burn.

16:17 - My sources tell me that Microsoft has decided upon an official name for their anti-spyware software. It will henceforth be known as Windows Pretender. I suppose that's appropriate, given that it only pretends to defend against spyware.


Tuesday, 8 November 2005
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10:05 - I went to vote this morning. As of 9:20 a.m., only 67 other people had voted and at that the staff said the turnout had been much higher than they had expected. The mayor is running unopposed, and the only other race was for alderman. We had a choice between the long-term incumbent Democrat, Wanda Merschel, or her challenger, conservative Republican Ken Raymond. The higher-than-expected turnout may work in Raymond's favor. Barbara will stop to vote on her way home from work.

This from someone who would be horrified if I printed his or her name:

I think the terrorists have finally picked a target they can beat.  Or, as Jon Stewart said, "Why go all the way to Iraq to fight angry Muslims when you can just do it in your own suburbs?"

Which, I suppose, is true. If I were going to pick someone to fight, the French surrender monkeys would be high on my list.

Many have commented that we can eventually expect to see such outrages in the United States. I don't think that's true, at least on a large scale. I do know that if rioting Islamic "youths" attempted to burn down our neighborhood, they wouldn't know what hit them. Like most middle-class neighborhoods outside the effete liberal urban areas, ours is well armed. If Islamic riots broke out around here, our neighborhood would immediately be closed down, secured, and patrolled. Any punks who showed up with Molotov cocktails would quickly find themselves perforated with buckshot.


Wednesday, 9 November 2005
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09:58 - I run into interesting things in the most unexpected places. Barbara hired a tree service to take out a couple of small trees and trim some others. As I was standing in the front yard this morning, talking to the owner of the tree service, he asked what I did. I told him that I wrote computer books. He asked which publisher, and when I mentioned O'Reilly he started talking about all the computer books he had.

When I mentioned that we were currently working on a PC hardware book, he started telling me about the new system he'd just build around a dual-core Pentium D processor and a D945 Intel motherboard. He said he builds all of his own systems, and for the reasons we mention in Building the Perfect PC. I gave him a signed copy.

More on the French riots and my belief that it won't happen here.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: not horrified
Date: Tue, 08 Nov 2005 10:23:18 -0500
From: <removed>
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

I agree with you that what we're seeing in France isn't likely to happen in the US.  For one thing, nothing like the numbers of Arab youth have come (in proportion) to the US.  For another, as you said, rioting "youth" would be met with a different response than they are getting in Paris.  I don't even think it would come to private individuals; any elected sherriff would know that he'd have to shut such behavior down.  Even in the "effete liberal urban areas" there are a lot of gun owners and folks who generally don't want their stuff burned.

I also think the body politic in the US is much more realistic than in Europe.  The liberal idea of man's equality and the mixing of cultures is an ideal here but one we'll be much quicker to jettison when push comes to shove.  And push hasn't come to shove here yet.  Yes, there are lots of illegals (and legal) immigrants sucking up a lot of resources, but we still attract many of the hard working, high dreaming immigrants we always have.  When, as a rule, immigrants start behaving themselves the way the French Muslims are, the people of the US will turn on them incredibly quickly.

We still want blood for 9/11, after all.  The Bush team has managed to sell a war on very flimsy ground based on this.  The American people were attacked and want some heads on pikes.  We also aren't paying all that much attention so haven't noticed we've let the main group of enemies off the hook - for the moment.  No, I think for all our problems and insanities, it would be best for all concerned if they don't push us too far.

Come to think of it, best not publish my name.

As you say, we haven't noticed yet, let alone responded seriously. What we needed after 9/11 was George S. Patton. What we had, unfortunately, was Elmer Fudd. But I have faith in America's ability to come up with men like Patton when we really need them.

Someone forwarded a link to my post yesterday to Jerry Pournelle, who responded as follows:

Mr. Thompson may find himself facing BATF and Federal Marshals. It is likely that the federal authority will support the rioters, who will only be demanding their rights. After the Watts Riots, the Christopher Commission found some very interesting conclusions, and none of them had much to say in condemnation of the rioters.

Besides: while Mr. Thompson is formidable, he can be isolated, demonized as an extremist, and carried off to a Federal prison. Probably charged with terrorism.

Yes, perhaps one day, there will be a military revolt in defense of the people of the United States, but it is not likely. We have put up with anarcho-tyranny for some time now. Why will it be different here? Our reaction to "punks" and slackers who riot is to ask what we did to deserve that, and build some more youth centers, and have midnight basketball. And to jail anyone who defends himself, as a number of Korean shopkeepers found during the last riots here.

Which doesn't really matter, except to me. Whether I'm here or not, my neighborhood will defend itself. At least here in the Southland, folks don't take kindly to terrorists with Molotov cocktails threatening their lives, families, friends, and property.

Besides, there really aren't many BATF agents and Federal Marshals. Certainly not enough to go around in the case of widespread rioting. The riot Dr. Pournelle refers to was localized, which allowed the federal government to concentrate its resources. The rioting in France, a very small country, has taken place in more than 300 cities and towns. Our federal agents couldn't deal with that many, let alone the 3,000 cities and towns that might be affected by widespread rioting here in the US. It would be up to local law enforcement and individuals to deal with the terrorists here, and deal with them they would.

And, although I am flattered by Dr. Pournelle's characterization of me as formidable, that does not reflect my self-image. I think of myself as a meek, mild, shy, unassuming middle-aged guy. If Dr. Pournelle wants to see formidable, just let him watch what happens when Southern boys come to the defense of their homes and families. They are warriors, in the real sense.


Thursday, 10 November 2005
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08:54 - Ooh Rah! Happy 230th Birthday to the United States Marine Corps. Semper Fi!

C|Net has more on the bad capacitor issue.

Apparently, this is a different problem than the bad capacitor problem of a few years ago. That one occurred because some motherboard makers bought cheap Taiwanese capacitors instead of more expensive Japanese ones.  Some of the Taiwanese capacitor companies, in an effort to reduce costs, used a knock-off dielectric fluid that was improperly formulated.

The current bad capacitor problem, which just caused Dell to miss its forecasts because of a $300 million charge against earnings, is apparently a manufacturing problem, caused by overfilling the capacitors. The only manufacturer I've seen mentioned by name is Nichicon, which is a Japanese maker of high-quality capacitors. The problem capacitors have been used on many high-quality motherboards, although Intel is the only manufacturer that has been named. Intel has posted an advisory that lists the D865GBF, D875BZL, D865GLC, D845EPI, D865PERC, D865GRH, D865PERL, D845GVSR, D865PESO, D845GLVA, D865GWV, and S875WP1-E as affected by this problem.

The C|Net article mentioned that the bad capacitors are "black and gold-colored low-ESR (equivalent series resistance) aluminum electrolytic cylinders about an inch in length and marked HN(M) and HM(M) on the side with a letter "X" stamped on the top." I took a quick look at the Intel 865- and 875-series motherboards I had in the stockroom, and didn't find any with black and gold capacitors. I did, however, find several that otherwise fit the description, but were black and silver. One of those is pictured below.

Is this a bad one or a good one? I don't know, and based on past experience it will be hard to get a definitive answer. Manufacturers, including Intel, are often hesitant to give details about problems like this, probably because they fear a flood of returned products that aren't affected by the problem. If I had to guess, I'd say this is probably a good capacitor and that the silver versus gold color indicates that fact. Based on the information in the C|Net article and what little other information I have, it would appear that the problem motherboards were manufactured from April 2003 through March 2004. I suspect that Intel probably fixed the problem in March 2004 by using different capacitors, but I don't know that for a fact. Also, I suspect Intel would have incremented the AA (Altered Assembly) number to reflect that change, but I have no information about which AA numbers are affected and which are not.

I suppose the good news, if there can be said to be any good news about such a problem, is that this problem appears to be much less severe than the earlier bad capacitor problem. It may be that only some of the capacitors were overfilled, but I have no idea whether it was 1%, 10%, or 100% that suffered the problem. Even motherboards with bad capacitors may not fail quickly. C|Net reports that the affected capacitors may begin to degrade after only three or four years rather than their expected seven-year lifetime. And Intel will replace failed motherboards under warranty. No word as to whether they will extend their one- or three-year warranty for boards that fail due to bad capacitors, but based on previous experience with Intel I suspect they will.

I suppose the best advice at this point is to keep an eye on things if you have one of the potentially affected motherboards. Every time you open up the system for cleaning or maintenance, examine the capacitors closely.

13:45 - It happened thirty years ago today. Most people couldn't name even one of the thousands of ships that have been lost on the Great Lakes. But if they do remember one, it will be the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Oddly enough, I remember the actual event. I was in graduate school at the time, working toward an MS in photographic chemistry at Rochester Institute of Technology. The sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald got major news coverage there, as might be expected in a city located on the Great Lakes. But it didn't make a real impression on me until the first time I heard Gordon Lightfoot's haunting ballad.


Friday, 11 November 2005
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08:57 - Ordering from NewEgg is always an adventure nowadays. I was hoping they'd fixed their ordering process since I last ordered from them in September, but it appears to be unchanged. They kept my credit card information on file, despite the fact that I explicitly told them not to. They also haven't gotten rid of the damned "Verified by Visa" thing.

After I finished entering items and clicked continue, up popped the Verified by Visa screen, with no option other than providing the information it demanded. I tried clicking through, but doing that generated an error message and another demand for information I had no intention of providing. So finally I just closed my browser and abandoned the order.

That happened at 7:00 p.m. local time on Wednesday, 9 November. I expect the usual--an email from NewEgg saying that my credit card was no good followed by another email an hour or several hours later saying that my order had been approved. That didn't happen this time. Finally, just before I went to bed Wednesday night, I logged into my NewEgg account and checked order status. That was given as a "1", which translates to "Your order has been successfully submitted. Your credit/debit card has not yet been charged. Please allow 1-2 business days for your order to process and ship."

I kept checking throughout the day yesterday, and my order status remained at "1". Finally, late last night, it changed to "4", which means "Your order contents will soon be packaged and sealed." I apparently missed the "2" and "3" parts. This morning, the order status was showing as "5", which means "Your order has shipped. You may view your tracking information by clicking the applicable "View" link above. Your tracking number(s) will also be sent via email to your Newegg.com login." And indeed I did get two emails from NewEgg this morning, one to confirm that the order had shipped and the other an invoice.

At this point, I'm dithering about whether to continue to recommend NewEgg to my readers. They have excellent prices and service, and most people will never run into the problems I do because they'll just provide the information that NewEgg asks for. For those people, NewEgg remains an excellent choice. But for anyone who is concerned about privacy, NewEgg's policies are obnoxious.

At any rate, my order is on the way, from two separate warehouses.

 $37.99 - NEC ND-3550A DVD±RW drive
 $28.99 - Verbatim 94834 DVD+RW discs, 30 pack
 $24.99 - Verbatim 94917 16X DVR+R discs, inkjet printable, 50 pack
 $79.99 - CyberHome CH-DVR1600 DVD recorder
 $15.98 - Shipping

$187.94 - Total

Their prices are excellent, they stock the stuff I want to buy, and they ship what they say they'll ship when they say they'll ship it. They have a superb rating on resellerratings.com. But I wish their ordering process wasn't obnoxious.

This stuff will arrive next week, and be added to the growing pile of stuff that we'll use to build the new systems for the new edition of Building the Perfect PC. I just got a bunch of hard drives yesterday, including several of the new Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 500 GB models. We're already covered up in motherboards, processors, cases, DVD burners, and so on.

I bought the CyberHome CH-DVR1600 DVR recorder because I want to test it as an alternative to the HTPC/PVR/DVR system (and to the TiVo). Obviously, the CyberHome DVD recorder has less functionality. It has no hard drive, for one thing, and it doesn't support live pause or an EPG. But who cares? For $80, it's a VCR replacement that records to DVD+R or DVD+RW discs instead of VHS tapes, in anything from 1-hour better-than-DVD quality to 6-hour VHS quality. And that's 100% of the functionality that most people really need..

12:17 - It happened 87 years ago today. World War I ended, and my mother was born almost at the exact moment the Armistice was declared. Although we call it Veterans Day nowadays, I remember when I was young my grandmothers and the other older folks still called it Armistice Day.

I saw an article this morning that said the government believes that only about 30 of our WWI veterans are still alive. And yet I remember when I was little going downtown with my parents to watch a parade. My dad carried me on his shoulders so that I could see above the heads of the crowd in front of us. The old soldiers were parading down Washington Street past the Murphy's 5&10, many of them wearing their WWI uniforms. Scores of them, just from our small town. They seemed old to me then, although most of them were probably in their 50's and 60's. It seems odd to think that nearly all of them are gone now, even though it has been nearly 50 years.

Today, I think of all of the veterans, past and present. But I especially think of my grandfather, who fought in the trenches in France in WWI, and my father, who fought in the air over Germany in WWII. And I think how lucky I am never to have had to fight, thanks in no small part to what they and others like them did for all of us.


Saturday, 12 November 2005
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Sunday, 13 November 2005
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