Ephemerides

A Daily Diatribe by a Pompous Git

A Sturm's Eye View

A journal of sorts to record Jonathan Sturm's (and others') thoughts and observations on things worth thinking about. Feedback welcome, but be aware that unless you prominently say you want your communication kept private, I may publish it.

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Monday 1 January 2001

Welcome to the new millennium! It seems like only a year has passed since everyone was saying that... 

Yesterday was a busy day preparing for the New Year's Eve Ball at the Franklin Palais. The Palais car park is contiguous with the pub car park and the publican has been distressed by Palais attendees obstructing access to the pub. This culminated in the beer truck being unable to deliver the beer because someone had parked across the entrance at a recent event for the local primary school. So, yours truly made signage in the afternoon telling people where they could park, used dye marker to make a line on the boundary of the car park space and acted as a policeman for the evening. It's not that people can't read signs, just that some believe that they only apply to other people.

Most patrons of both venues were very nice when asked to park appropriately -- there's plenty of space behind the Palais and at the football oval on the opposite side of the Main Road. Some, of course, had to be rude, but this was of no concern to me. The weather change meant the evening was mild and I had a pleasant time chatting with the cigarette smokers who came out front to feed their habit. The nominal start time for the event was 8:30 and it wasn't until 11:00 that people stopped arriving. Sadly, by that time the band had finished and were replaced by the DJ and more recent music that was not to my taste.

I visited the pub for a short while to chat with my friends and neighbours there before going to the Palais for the moment at midnight. The DJ played Richard Strauss's Thus Sprach Zarathustra. I suspect the piece was played quite a few times that night. I pondered the mysterious "e" that had been added to Arthur C Clark's name by so many writers as I dropped the "E" I had found in the car park. This "E" was a child's white plastic capital "E" with magnets on the back. I dropped it several times, but the purported hallucinogenic effect teenagers talk about failed to materialise. Perhaps my brains are old and scrambled. [Read this before writing to me about my error here.]

Nevertheless, I enjoyed myself watching the interaction between people in various stages of inebriation, not all alcohol induced. Some were throwing themselves about with complete abandon; others were concentrating seriously on their dancing efforts. The limbo dancing competition produced much hilarity. I drank little during the evening against the possibility of needing to assist with anyone whose overindulgence created a problem. Fortunately, nothing untoward occurred. My last hour was marred by an attack of sciatica so I took an anti-inflammatory and analgesic before bed. This led to my feeling distinctly unwell today so I spent most of it prone, dozing and reading Stephen Jay Gould's Wonderful Life.

My New Year resolution was as usual to not get frostbite. I have succeeded in this every year since 1965 and as I plan no overseas trips, or winter bushwalks in the mountains, I expect to remain mercifully free of frostbite this year, too.

If you are a Tom Rapp (Pearls Before Swine) fan, this link contains some good news.

Thought for the day:

You can see a lot by observing.

Yogi Berra


Tuesday 2 January 2001

Today was hot and humid. At last, summer is here again.

Follow on from Saturday's thoughts on making money from writing via the Internet:

Rather than view short work such as DayNotes type commentaries and short articles as a source of revenue, it seems to me to make more sense to view it as advertorial. That is, editorial that can be used to sell more substantial works. Those more substantial works could be anything from a few dozen to a few hundred pages and made available for download at considerably lower cost than printed work of similar length. While much has been made of the necessity of copy protection for such works, I think that this is a furphy. If the Internet has shown us anything, it's that copy protection doesn't work. Copy protection schemes that might work sound like a PITA for the reader and I don't think that's a great idea.

All that is required for such publishing to work is for a sufficient number of people to pay for the download. Sure, some will "borrow", pirate, or pass on the work, but what's new?  That happens to works on paper right now. Some of Jerry Pournelle's "protected" work is currently available on the Internet having been scanned off paper. The last two novels of Jerry's I bought were from a second hand bookstore; any royalty on those Jerry received over a decade ago. The readers who pay have always been a subset of total readers.

"But people prefer paper," I hear. Sure they do. Even more, they prefer to read a work by an author they know and trust. O'Reilly sees a book about FrontPage as a commodity competing on an equal footing with Que, Sams and New Riders books about FrontPage. I don't! I want Tom Syroid's book about FrontPage and I'll worry about the medium second. Given the useful lifespan of most computer books, paper's probably not that great of a medium anyway. We throw away an unconscionable amount of trees devoted to computer software.

For works where paper makes more sense, it's not that difficult to publish to paper. While I have published only one book, Lesley Black's Sea Gypsy, it has returned a small but useful profit on an initial investment of only $A2,000. It's not rocket science!

"What about editing and proofreading?" Again, not rocket science. No, you can't proofread your own work; you tend to see what you thought you wrote. Excellent proofreaders aren't particularly common, but they don't necessarily have to be paid up front. I'll bet there are some out there that will work for a profit share.

"It'll never work without a publicity machine!" True! But the best publicity machine I know of is word of mouth. Such a venture would be newsworthy. Forgetting the umpteen thousand page reads per day of fellow DayNoters, there's a news story for CMP, ZDNet...

If there's any lesson from the history of publishing, where these thoughts started, it's that the cost has declined and the bar to entry has been continually lowered. The number of published titles has simultaneously increased, especially the number of specialty titles. The latest publishing revolution is happening right now and the Media Barons are panicking. Take that Kerry Packer, Rupert Murdoch and Conrad Black! You might control the newspapers, magazines, television, radio and film, but you don't control the Internet!

Feedback welcome.

Bob Thompson wrote:

> Thus Sprach Zarathustra

"Also sprach Zarathustra", perhaps?

Heh, heh, heh.

Bob

-- Robert Bruce Thompson 

thompson@ttgnet.com 
http://www.ttgnet.com/rbt/thisweek.html

My Germanic/English ancestry allows me to mix the translation with the original!

Also sprach = Thus spoke

Thought for the day:

The printing press is either the greatest blessing or the greatest curse of modern times, sometimes one forgets which it is.

Sir James M. Barrie


Wednesday 3 January 2001

Still hot, but a breeze enabled me to work outside on The House of Steel.

BIG RETRACTION

My antique (1953) copy of Arthur C. Clarke's The City and the Stars has the "e" worn away. Perhaps my brain, only two years older, is wearing away too!

Thought for the day:

What is the good of being a genius if you cannot use it as an excuse for being unemployed?

Gerald Barzan


Thursday 4 January 2001

If you're having trouble making money, perhaps you should become a farmer in the United States. According to The New York Times, US farmers received a record $US28 billion dollars in direct government subsidies this year. This accounts for half the total income earned by farmers in the US. In eight states, the subsidy made up 100% of farm income.

Handouts included:

$US40,000  Just for farming
$US40,000  For an "emergency" such as a poor market
$US100,000  For not making any money
$US50,000  For taking some land out of production

George Bush said last week: "Our nation must be bold enough to be a nation that's willing to trade freely in the world... we must be a nation of free traders". Perhaps he means freeloaders.

Now you know why I gave up farming. There are no subsidies for Australian farmers.

Bo Leuf writes:

Hi, and happy continuation of 2001...

You posted... > I pondered the mysterious "e" that had been added to Arthur C Clark's > name by so many writers

What "added"? His name is in fact spelled with a final "e".

Ah, later I see you waive your antique book with well-worn cover as an excuse. Just stand firm: it was reality that was changed on you by rogue timetravellers. Retroactively and regressively.

> Now you know why I gave up farming. There are no subsidies for > Australian farmers.

EU subsidies aren't bad either, if you can stand the paperwork (and have the conscience for it). A number of Swedish farmers live on both national and EU subsidies given on the condition that these farmers refrain from farming certain land or producing more milk&butter. 'Tis a strange world...

/ Bo -- Bo Leuf Leuf Consultancy LeufCom -- http://www.leuf.com/

Time travel, or am I visiting a parallel universe?

Bob Thompson seems to have been having similar thoughts on publishing to me. Great minds like a think!

Thought for the day:

Taxpayers may not realize it, but the money they send to Washington is hastening the demise of family farms through the agricultural subsidy programs that purport to save them.

Environmental Working Group


Friday 5 January 2001

I have been taken to task for my attack on US farm subsidies. Apparently the Environmental Working Group is a front for GreenPeace, so their statistical analyses must be suspect. Since I could find no other statistical analysis (every place that had them quote the Environmental Working Group), I proffer this link to a piece about a particular "farmer", Archer Daniels Midland. The publisher is the Cato Institute, about as politically distant from GreenPeace as you can get.

Like Bob Thompson, I have a feeling that HTML or compiled HTML Help is the way to go with electronic publishing. While early versions of HTML Help were buggy, as usual MS are improving it to the point where earlier objections are no longer valid. Some pointed out that this would alienate the Linuxen who do not have the luxury of being able to install Internet Explorer, essential to use HTML Help. (Note that you can use Opera or Netscape to read the files; you just need IE installed). There wouldn't be too many Linuxen incapable of using WINE to run IE.

There's a review of HTML Help compilers here. The leading contenders have evaluation downloads available. While Doc-to-Help looks more expensive, it comes bundled with AnswerWorks, available separately as an add-on for RoboHelp. AnswerWorks is an indexer that allows decent searches of reference material. For instance, a search on "catch" would find "caught" as well, something a wildcard search cannot do.

Of course one could always publish in ordinary HTML, MS Word, or even MS Rich Text Format. This would certainly be a lot less expensive than purchasing Doc-to-Help or RoboHelp. But I think that for reference material, AnswerWorks or something like it, is almost essential to take advantage of the main strength of electronic documents.

By now you've probably read about the appalling performance of Intel's Pentium 4. The technical reasons for this here. Be warned, it's heavy going if you are unfamiliar with processor architecture. Although the writer gives background material in the piece to get you up to speed, you might prefer the more lucid explanations at Ars Technica before proceeding.

An even-handed op-ed piece on the future of Linux on ZD-Net here.

I saw the SubSeven trojan in action today. Unlike Back Orifice, this remote control program is literally child's play to use. Infected machines can be restarted, passwords stolen (including ISP passwords!), documents stolen, or deleted... even an FTP server set up. Set to scan IP ranges for infected machines, it was finding one every 15 minutes or so. Instructions for removing it here.

And while we are on the subject of viruses, the first PHP virus has been detected. Story from The Register.

From Paul Thurrott's newsletter:

EXCLUSIVE: MICROSOFT RELEASES NEW WHISTLER BUILD 

Last night, Microsoft issued Whistler build 2410 to technical beta testers, the first new build since the release of Beta 1 in late October. No word yet about the new features, but this version of Whistler (the next version of Windows) features some intriguing antipiracy mechanisms that create a personal product identification code that is attached to the machine on which the OS is installed. If I understand this new scheme's purpose, Microsoft is finally following through on its long-time threat to enforce its licensing policies; each Windows license is technically attached to the machine on which it is first installed and is not attached to the person who installed the product. With the new scheme, it will no longer be possible to use the same product ID to install Windows on more than one machine. Whistler 2410 features a number of new features, and early next week I'll have a full report.

Tom Syroid has had a Cosmic Experience with Mandrake 7.2. I had mine some weeks ago, but I'm still waiting for some serious apps and better USB support

Thought for the day:

More people would learn from their mistakes if they weren't so busy denying them.

Harold J Smith


Saturday 6 January 2001

I was thinking about the Silly Season hacker attack that failed to materialise.  "Systems administrators were also advised to update their virus definitions daily..." Full story at the Reg.

It occurs to me that if everyone downloaded a daily virus definition file, that would bring the Internet to its knees. Sort of a DoS attack on the very structure of the Internet. Of course the servers carrying the virus definitions get overloaded long before the Internet does. Anyone try to download Symantec's definition files in the week following Melissa or I Love You? Makes you wonder if these antivirus experts have ever used the Internet. Or noticed that the virus definition files are not usually updated daily. Virus prevention by signature file strikes me as somewhat akin to putting a condom on after you've contracted the clap!

Yesterday I was dreaming of better USB support for Linux and Linus answers my prayer by releasing the Linux 2.4 kernel. The Reg calls it "the long awaited Linus 2.4 kernel". Perhaps the 15 month delay gave the impression that Linus was the only one writing the code. Now, my other prayer was for apps...

Linus told the anxiously awaiting faithful "... don't bother reporting any bugs for the next few days. I won't care anyway." Now why does that make me think of Microsoft?

Dave Farqhar published some good news the other day! Adobe has put Adobe Type Manager Light for Windows into the public domain. Kewl! So I log onto Adobe's site and after some searching, finally manage to find it. Adobe says Postscript font display is built into Win2k. Now why didn't Microsoft tell me that? It's nowhere to be found in Win2k's online help. Oh, and why didn't Adobe tell me about it? I'm a registered Adobe software user from way back. I paid $A125 for my first copy of ATM. The only software companies I can remember contacting me regularly following software registration were Corel in the early days and Aldus.

The latter part of the day was spent putting a large X with a wax crayon on the piers for The House of Steel. Tomorrow will be spent boring holes with a hammer drill, followed by epoxying threaded rod into them. It's likely that I'll be too tired to write much after that. Unless the weather changes again. 

Thought for the day:

We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.

Benjamin Franklin


Sunday 7 January 2001

I've been thinking some more about Tom Syroid's Cosmic Experience. Not only does Mandrake set itself up perfectly (on our hardware at least), according to LinuxPlanet, WINE allows you to run MS Office 97. I had success with FrontPage 2000, though not Word 2000. My son Thomas has run several Windows games, albeit at somewhat reduced performance. WINE is an implementation of the Windows 3.x and Win32 APIs on top of X Windows, comes bundled with most Linux distributions and works well. Why would you want to do this? If you are a Win9.x "power" user, you are likely used to regular lock-ups and such that mean you need to reboot. Running under WINE, your apps can misbehave, but they do not necessitate a reboot.

If you do any amount of complex printing, you will probably want to upgrade to a PostScript printer and that will likely cost you more than upgrading your Win9.x to Win2k (though see my piece on upgrading my LJ5P to 5MP). I find the free version of GhostScript buggy and unreliable. It could well be worth the effort if you crave stability and want to get away from Microsoft OSs. You might also want to wait for Mandrake to include the new Linux 2.4 kernel with its better USB support if you are using USB peripherals.

Bo Leuf writes:

J, you posted...

> Adobe says Postscript font > display is built into Win2k. Now why didn't Microsoft tell me that?

Mmm, could be because it doesn't work? Since I use Framemaker, I saw the same notice as I moved to install ATM on W2k after installing FM there. (I've previously done all the writing in NT4.)

So-o-o, I fire up FM without ATM. No PS fonts. I check that the font are there; diddle this, fiddle that: still no ps fonts. As you say, no documentation on the subject. No hint as how to "enable" the fonts. I install Adobes new ps drivers for W2k. Nope. (Additionally, there's an issue with Adobe installation not recognizing the W2k version of the ps dirver. Huh!)

Anyway, to make the long story short: I installed ATM and thus gained access in Framemaker to the ps fonts. ATM works as advertised in W2k, despite the implied Adobe warning.

Could be the MS-ps support referes to the OpenType format...? Dunno...

/ Bo -- Bo Leuf Leuf Consultancy LeufCom -- http://www.leuf.com/

A search in the TechNet KnowledgeBase for Win2k reveals nothing to explain Adobe's strange ignorance of Win2k and their own product. Only the problems Distiller 3 has with MS's PS printer driver. Time for yet another download (my old ATM doesn't like Win2k).

Thought for the day:

Argh. Well, Australia, New Zealand, it's like Britain and Ireland. Same country mate. Oops (ducks)

An Anonymous DayNoter who mistook Mike Barkman for me!


 

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Jonathan Sturm 2001

Jonathan Sturm 2001