Ephemerides

A Daily Diatribe by a Pompous Git

 A Sturm's Eye View, Guaranteed Free of Harmful, or Potentially Harmful Chemicals -- but Watch Out for the Ideas! Some of them are Contagious!

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 19 March 2001

Woo-hoo! It's Monday! Most folks hate Mondays, but when you're working for yourself. the days of the week are mostly the same. But today is the day we start working on framing the roof of The House of Steel.

-oOo-

What a bummer! It's raining! Fran goes home to return with his computer so I can install the hard disk I got for him Saturday. I'm feeling lazy, so I use Partition Magic 5 to clone the original onto the "new" drive. Partition Magic spits the dummy because of errors, so I run Scandisk. Scandisk spits because the root has the maximum number of files. I count 450 *.CHK files and del *.CHK doesn't delete them.

I formatted the "new" drive and installed Win95 OSR2 on it while I put the ailing original hard disk into my machine. Win2k can't read the data files off it because of errors, so I run CHKDSK with /F /N. At the end of this, almost every file on the disk has disappeared. I tell Fran that he'll have to restore the data from backup. "Backup? What's a backup?"

-oOo-

Despite having for several years been involved in politicz (secretary of the Huon Branch of the Labor Party), I take little interest. However, the comment of the Liberal candidate in Saturday's bye-election in Queensland had me in fits of laughter. He looks like losing his blue ribbon seat, so he says: "It's nothing to do with me, mate!"

-oOo-

Yesterday I started reading Infinite Loop by Michael S. Malone. Sub-titled How Apple, The World's Most Insanely Great Computer Company Went Insane, it's a hoot, too. While I had already read how the two Steves were phone phreaks, I hadn't read that they made thousands of dollars from their criminal activities. Or that Jobs stole thousands from Woz when he sold a game to Atari that Woz wrote! And their computers were assembled in sweatshops! 

Thought for the day:

I always divide people into two groups. Those who live by what they know to be a lie, and those who live by what they believe, falsely, to be the truth.

Christopher Hampton


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Tuesday 20 March 2001

Fran and I set to nailing studs across the corridor of The House of Steel and using more studs laid on them as a platform. Only at the front of the house we use a trestle resting on studs where the deck is to go. Then we commenced sorting the roof purlins and bridging (stiffeners that go between the purlin centres to stop them twisting). We discover that we are short several purlins and that one lot of purlins are a metre shorter than they should be! Many of the bridges are end bridges, rather than the sort that chain together.

I phone the supplier and I receive a return phone call from the chap who worked all this out for us. He says he tried to get us to have an engineer work out what we needed. Neither Fran nor I remember this, but we have him coming tomorrow to sort things out. I don't want to blame anyone. Almost everything to do with building The House of Steel so far has not gone according to plan. (Now why does this remind me of the computer industry?) All I want is a solution.

I have read extensively on the subject of owner building and while it was interesting, there was nothing in what I read to prepare me for what has happened.  The only book I found that might have helped is available via the Internet, but only for delivery to US addresses! I emailed the seller, but have yet to receive a reply. While some of my fellow DayNoters are experimenting with subscriptions, my experiment will be publishing online books -- possibly paper versions too if this is successful. The first will be about owner building and will not only tell the story of The House of Steel, but be about the pitfalls and how to overcome them. A useful book. 

After much thought, I have decided that it will be best to publish in HTML, rather than HTML Help or Word format. 

Purchasing the book will be a subscription of sorts. Probably to a message board like Dr Keyboard, or Bob Thompson's. That will likely throw up a lot of interesting stuff for inclusion in revisions that will be free to current subscribers. Of course, I have to complete The House of Steel first! I have read that the typical completion time for owner-built houses is twelve months, but that's for houses that are made with mud bricks, or are huge mansions of stone. The House of Steel was supposed to be much quicker than it's turning out.

-oOo-

My son Thomas received a bounced email today -- for an email he sent on the 30th of April last year! Before you leap to the conclusion that MS is to blame, the server that swallowed it runs RedHat Linux. I have no idea what software they use for email. Names have been changed to protect the guilty!

----- The following addresses had transient non-fatal errors -----

<abc@xyz.com>

----- Transcript of session follows ----- 

451 <abc@xyz.com>... xyz.com: Name server timeout 

Warning: message still undelivered after 4 hours 

Will keep trying until message is 2 days old

Thought for the day:

What I do best is share my enthusiasm.

Bill Gates


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Wednesday 21 March 2001

The chap who munged the steel order didn't turn up or phone. When I phoned him, he said he was too busy yada, yada, yada... Meanwhile Fran and I put up quite a few of the steel purlins for The House of Steel -- and it looks beautiful.

-oOo-

Interesting discussion of using CLI vs GUI over on Warlock's page

Way back when Windows was just a glint in BillG's eye, the only GUI was the Mac. No command line. *nix was all command line. All or nothing. Some things, such as graphics are ideally suited to the GUI (but even then some of us love CorelDRAW!'s efficient keyboard commands). Others, such as writing are keyboard intensive. When Windows arrived, it gave us a bit of both worlds. A command line and a GUI. The GUI made learning software easier and the standardisation made learning any one app the basis for learning any number of others. BillG's genius was to also map (or allow the user to map) almost every mouse command to a keyboard command. Fact is, it's way faster to hit a couple of keys on the keyboard than to remove your hands from the keyboard to use the mouse. 

While word processing and the cursor is in the middle of a line of text, try Shift-End (or Home) and tell me that's not quicker than reaching for the mouse to select text. Now try Shift-Ctrl-Arrow to select one word at a time. I've trained a lot of word processing in my time and I always emphasise that if you do something frequently, learn the keyboard command. If it's not in your regular work, the mouse is there for ease of learning.

Just as word processing is more efficient from the keyboard than from the mouse, so is computer management. Compare CHKDSK C: /F /N, Enter, with double click My Computer icon, right click C: drive, choose Properties, click the Tools Tab, click the Check Now button, click the two check boxes then finally the Check now button. 

IMHO the only serious error MS made with NT development was to integrate the GUI with the OS so that it consumes resources even when you aren't using it. To my mind, keeping the GUI and the command line as separate options is Linux's greatest strength. Linux's command line may be Klingon, but it's not all that different to the Klingon that's lurking underneath Windows 9.x and NT. Just a lot more powerful.

The GUI is a powerful tool for learning what's available and for infrequent tasks. Most of the time, the keyboard is king for getting the job done quickly and efficiently.

Thought for the day:

Efficiency is doing better what is already being done.

Peter Drucker


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Thursday 22 March 2001

For the life of me I can't find the reference to a piece of research by a Chinese mathematician I recall from the early 1990s. It's on paper of course, but not on the Internet. The paper seemed to prove that from the i486 onwards, it's impossible to prove mathematically that microprocessors work. You can demonstrate that everything's hunky dory by having them process lots of examples, but there's always a possibility that some future calculation will produce nonsense.

Even the humble i386 had its problems in early versions as inspection of the Windows 3.x kernel will attest.

Understanding chip architecture is an arcane art, but it's possible for it to be dumbed down to where us lesser lights can follow the thread. Ars Technica is the place to go if you want to learn about such things. But you don't need to do this to follow this thought -- microprocessors are just software running in hardware. I'm not talking about the external software of OS and apps here, but the code that runs exclusively inside the chip.

This code is the real thing -- not the higher level stuff of C++ or Java and there are few smart enough to do it and do it well. Just compare the size of Steve Gibson's apps with those of his rivals and then think even smaller and more efficient. There's a price to pay for the small size and quick execution of this code of course. It's insanely difficult and takes longer to write and debug than C++ etc.

There's not too much around in the way of totally bug-free software, high level or at the lowest. Anyone remember the Intel FDIV bug? There's people who prefer Intel chips to AMD chips on the grounds of better compatibility with software. They point out that most software is written to the Pentium using Pentium machines. But which Pentium on which stepping? What if the programmers prefer the superior compile speed of the Thunderbird?

Personally, I think the world's best programmers are working at Intel and AMD and there's probably not much to choose between these intellectual giants. Preferring one over the other is either an act of faith or based on price/performance. My own experience is that I have less problems with Win2k Pro running on my AMD chips with VIA chipsets than many who prefer "Intel Inside".

Thought for the day:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. [Hebrews 11:1]


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Friday 23 March 2001

Well, the steel person turned up, managed to admit his mistake, a mistake by the dispatcher and work out a happy compromise for fixing things up. He said that as a salesman it's not his job to work out for clients what their needs are, it's the engineers. I told him that the engineers had told me it was the builder's job, and since I'm the builder, I had asked him to do it.

He explained that most builders hire a specialist with computer software that automates the process and a typical building might take the specialist an hour or two at a cost of several hundred dollars. I don't mind telling you that it's not rocket science, doesn't require computer software and might take an absolute beginner half a day with a four function calculator.

The salesman continued his diatribe against the likes of Fran and myself. I'm not exactly sure if he knew he was insulting us or not. His opinion is that only "qualified" people should be allowed to build houses. I pointed out that the reason I had asked Fran to help me was that he has a superb reputation among his clients, unlike many "qualified" tradesmen, and I was saving some $A150,000 into the bargain. He wasn't able to explain quite what benefits I would have gained by borrowing the extra $A150,000. So I will enumerate them:

  1. The walls would have been single studs, rather than doubles, so the walls on the weather side would bow in the wind.
  2. The roof purlins would have been 100 mm (4 in) deep instead of 150 mm (6 in). And there would have been no bridging. Likely the roof would have blown away in a gale.
  3. We would have needed to install a pump to move the effluent from the septic tank into the soakage trench.

Actually, it's more likely that these errors in the architect's drawings would have been picked up by a competent builder. But then that builder would be charging extra for these "necessary" changes to the design.

After the steel salesman had left, Fran regaled me with stories about what he had found "qualified" builders doing to decrease costs and maximise profits.

Concrete slab too small, so a plank was laid on the ground and covered with 100 mm of concrete. Brick wall built on that!

Wooden stumps too short, so an extra piece of timber balanced on top and held together by nailing a strip of tin around the join. Not even an attempt at splicing the joint.

A tiler prepares for the following day by stacking the tiles in several piles on the roof. Returns the following day to discover the roof has collapsed under the weight because the frames were made of timber of too small a dimension and spaced further apart than required.

All these cases and more were inspected and passed as satisfactory by "qualified" building inspectors.

It's my firm belief that certification is a method devised to enable incompetents to to gain protection from corrupt officials. The truly competent are sought after based on the work they have done and need no professional body to get them more work.

All that aside, the higher quality and lower cost of The House of Steel is less important to me than the sheer pleasure of accomplishment I feel being an owner builder. And working with people who derive their pleasure from pride of workmanship rather than merely counting the dollars.

-oOo-

On the tape backup with Win2k front, I have had no time for swimming in Media Pools, but a quick and dirty works. In the MMC, expand the Removable Storage tree, then expand the Media Pools tree. Expand the Free tree. Expand the Backup icon at the bottom of that tree, then choose Travan. Now, from the right pane, drag the icon for the tape you want to use into the Travan folder under Free. Now right click the icon you just dropped into Free and choose Prepare! At least I think that's what I did at 11.30 last night! For the first time I managed to backup over a used tape at any rate and it seemed to restore OK. But what a pain! How I miss Central Point Backup!

Thought for the day:

Quality isn't something that can be argued into an article or promised into it. It must be put there. If it isn't put there, the finest sales talk in the world won't act as a substitute.

C. G. Campbell


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Saturday 24 March 2001

Happy Sixteenth Birthday Thomas Sturm! His birthday present is 128 MB of KingMax lifetime warranty RAM and he reports that Quake 3 Arena under Win2k is using it to full advantage. He's off to town with some friends for a day that culminates in an afternoon rock concert at the university. Following that we are dining at Marty Zucco's pizza and pasta restaurant, followed by a party at a friend's house. I suspect that it's going to be an exhausting day.

As of today, Thomas gets a pay rise. Prior to Thomas's 16th we received Family Assistance from the government, and from today it's Youth Allowance. Yesterday, Marguerite lodged the form with Centrelink. Mysteriously, Centrelink needed proof of Thomas's identity, even though he's been part of government records for nearly 16 years. His birth certificate went astray several years ago and we received a replacement document. This was apparently not good enough for the fascist in charge as it wasn't an original. Acceptable documents were driving licence (at his age?), gun licence (ditto), house mortgage contract -- he lives with his parents for heaven's sake... Marguerite became angry and as usual got her own way!

You may wonder how many other Thomas Sturm's living at Franklin (population somewhat south of 1000) turned 16 today. Hint -- another Thomas Sturm in Germany emailed my son several years ago as he never imagined that someone sharing his name existed elsewhere on the planet.

Even though Family Assistance payments are intended for parents, we paid it all into a bank account for Thomas's use since he was eleven or twelve. He had to pay for his clothes and other non-periodic expenses from that, as well as his personal outings and so forth. Occasionally we needed to supplement his income, but he gained a keen appreciation for living on a budget and has often come up with his own top-up schemes. Like selling floppy disks at school for 50% of the school's charges and making 100% profit! And fixing his friends' computers.

-oOo-

The relationship between the conscious and unconscious mind fascinates me. I believe it's the unconscious mind that gives rise to mystical/spiritual experience as well as being a useful machine for doing work while I do something more interesting. Seeing What You Don't See has an online experiment where you can test your ability to see with your unconscious mind when your conscious mind is unaware of seeing. Fascinating. There are also links to other sites, such as The Brain Project.

Physics and Life, a lecture on the possible origins and causes of life by Paul Davies is a fascinating read. Davies writes:

"Given that quantum mechanics provides the possibility of stupendous information processing power, why does nature have need of it? To what use is it put? Does this extraordinary power just go to waste, or is it harnessed somewhere? I believe it is indeed harnessed, in bringing life into existence, and maybe mind too. That is not a scientific conclusion, of course, but the history of science does show that what can happen in physics usually does happen somewhere in nature. If quantum computation turns out to [be] technologically feasible, I would find it hard to believe that nature didn't get there first."

Thought for the day:

In the early days all I hoped was to make a living out of what I did best. But, since there's no real market for masturbation I had to fall back on my bass playing abilities.

Les Claypool


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Sunday 25 March 2001

Having spent most of yesterday in the garden, the rest of the day was indeed exhausting, but mostly fun. Thomas had a great time at the movies then on to a rock concert at the Uni. When we picked him up at 7 o'clock, he was soaked in perspiration -- he looked like he had been under a shower! The meal at Mart Zucco's was OK, although the service was a little slow. I had purchased a bottle of decent vintage Tasmanian chardonnay and rather than drink too much, I followed that with chinoto. This took some explaining as the waitress had never heard of it! She decided I must mean Italian soda, and this turned out to be indeed, chinoto.

We spent around two hours at my friend Richard's party, though Thomas repaired to the car for a nap shortly after our arrival. He stayed just long enough for a birthday blueberry muffin with a sparkler. I chatted briefly with Anthea Boden, a neighbour of mine from the early 1970s before being hijacked by Chris, a publisher needing help with her website. I very reluctantly agreed to meet her tomorrow to discuss her website problems. At this point in time, I really don't want to go back to working for money just so I can pay someone else to work on The House of Steel and have all the fun on my behalf! Also, I suspect that the council would take a dim view of my doing this if whoever I hired was not a "qualified" builder.

I wonder if I add the hourly rate for a builder to my hourly rate that will discourage them?

Thought for the day:

The term up has no meaning apart from the word down. The term fast has no meaning apart from the term slow. In addition such terms have no meaning even when used together, except when confined to a very particular situation... most of our language about the organization and objectives of government is made up of such polar terms. Justice and injustice are typical. A reformer who wants to abolish injustice and create a world in which nothing but justice prevails is like a man who wants to make everything up. Such a man might feel that if he took the lowest in the world and carried it up to the highest point and kept on doing this, everything would eventually become up. This would certainly move a great many objects and create an enormous amount of activity. It might or might not be useful, according to the standards which we apply. However it would never result in the abolishment of down.

Thurman W. Arnold


 

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Jonathan Sturm 2001

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Jonathan Sturm 2001