A Daily Diatribe by a Pompous Git

Who is that fat bastard? 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 2 April 2001

Wow! Déja vue! Here I am looking forward to Monday so I can get stuck into The House of Steel and it's bloody well cool and raining again. Bugger! Actually, it won't stop us doing what we intend today -- cutting up the plywood sheets for the gutter. It'll just be uncomfortable under the carport roof.

As it turned out, the rain was just nuisance stuff and we managed to attach the first layer of plywood to the curved gutter beams. We now have what looks like a giant water slide with a 5 metre fall to the ground at the end of it. Thomas wants iron spikes sticking up out of the ground while my preference is for a large vat of green slime. We intend to invite politicians to view the gutter and then push them so they slide down to meet the sticky end they deserve.

While Fran and I worked on the gutter, new team member Paul shifted the large pile of gravel in front of the house. He astounded us by running with full loads of gravel, constructing the various paths around the house we need. After demolishing the gravel pile, I had him move the decking from its storage area, closer to where it's needed. After that, he split firewood until beer o'clock. He worked seven hours without a break, not even for food. He refused the complimentary beer as he was off to football training.


Peter Kent's Poor Richard's email newsletter is back. Peter Kent is an innovative and interesting writer of books that he self-publishes and promotes through the Internet.

Thought for the day:

Energy is equal to desire and purpose.

Sheryl Adams


Tuesday 3 April 2001

An interesting day. I invited the architect to view The House of Steel. Despite my lack of respect for his engineering abilities, he is responsible for the overall design and it is everything one could hope for. I could not deny him this opportunity, as the house will look very different when its "bones" are covered with "skin". Stephen arrived with his lady, Jackie and they were as overjoyed by the viewing as I am. They visited nearly 60 minutes and left us with hot cross buns and took some Royal Gala apples, the variety currently at its peak of perfection.


Once again my weight came into its own to hold down the second layer of marine plywood on the gutter while Fran put in the screws. I finished the day applying a two part epoxy coating that soaks into the very fibres of the timber, rendering it immune to the ravages of water.


SuSE Linux Professional (and O'Reilly's Using Samba) arrived at last! It's going to be a while until I get around to my next foray into Linux, the next few days being fully occupied with The House of Steel and the minor matter of celebrating turning 50.

I was a little disappointed when SuSE arrived that it seems despite being bundled with 2,000 applications, I will need to buy another product to obtain an email server. My immediate goal is to have an alternative solution to MS Small Business Server.

Some of my fellow DayNoters have been debating the usefulness of Linux vs Windows. There's little doubt that Linux will continue to make gains against Windows in server space, but even more vulnerable are the other Unices, OS/2 and Netware. On the desktop, I suspect most of us will stick with our current version of Windows and Office. Linux has a great opportunity to exploit the longer than usual delay before regular Windows users consider the next upgrade. At the moment, we are more than happy to continue using what we already have. It's a great relief to not have to consider upgrading for some time.

So, for Linux on the desktop to become a reality, there will need to be apps that are not "just as good as" Windows apps, but better in ways we cannot conceive right now. Actually, better in ways we can conceive might be good enough. I'd like an HTML editor with three tabs (Normal, HTML, Preview) in the right pane like FrontPage and the web structure to the left. But doesn't produce crap HTML when I paste from my word processor!

Some believe that Linux apps don't need to follow Windows conventions. I disagree. I remember the days when F1 only popped up help in some apps. Word Perfect didn't. If an app doesn't copy with Ctrl-C, print with Ctrl-P, save with Ctrl-S, it's doomed. There was a time when French was the language of diplomacy, Latin the language of science and English the language of business. Today English serves all those purposes and more. The vast majority of computer users do not have time to learn more than one language to use a computer. Even the MS behemoth failed to change us from Ctrl-V to Shift-Insert!


DingoBlue has changed its terms from unlimited time, unlimited downloads to a maximum of 12 hours connection and 1.5 GB/month of bandwidth. That means my cost goes up as we usually manage to remain connected for several days at a time, though the extra cost is not great (5% or so). The diminution of bandwidth won't affect me much, but it will affect Thomas who is quite bitter. I suggested that he could find his own ISP if he didn't like DingoBlue. Of course he'll then also need his own telephone line when we move into The House of Steel. Just as well I organised four pairs of telephone lines out to the pole.

Thought for the day:

The applause of a single human being is of great consequence.

Samuel Johnson


Wednesday 4 April 2001

The gutter through the middle of The House of Steel is all but finished. Fran and I battened it down the edges so we could attach narrow strips of 10 mm marine plywood to bring the height of the gutter edges up to the underside of the corrugated iron roof. Several people have told me we will regret having a valley gutter, it will overflow and flood the house. Well, I calculated the volume of the gutter at 2,300 litres (607 gal US). The slope is 3° and the ends are unobstructed; the water will fall into a wide funnel. If that gutter floods, we will have other things to worry about than water ingress under the edge of the roof!

Rain was predicted, so I didn't put the epoxy putty in the joints. It's expensive stuff and I didn't want to have to stop because the plywood was wet. So we commenced putting the front decking on. This went much quicker than my solo effort on the side deck. Cutting the lengths was complicated by the fact that the longest length is shorter than the deck, but not by much. Fran went to some trouble to randomise the lengths so that it looks better than if we just went one very long, one very short length alternating, which is what I would likely have done.

The rain did come, in short periods of drizzle at first, then a continuous downpour from around 3:30. It's supposed to be fine for the rest of the week, so first thing tomorrow I'll us the compressor to blow the moisture from the cracks between the plywood sheets and putty them up late in the day. Then there's three coats of marine paint, so it's likely we will be roofing on Tuesday if it's not too windy.


It seems The Warlock is up and running with SuSE 7.1. I was tempted to try myself, but I really need a full day so I can be sure that I can recover from disaster -- full backup of data to tape (twice) and an image of my working Win2k on the second hard disk. Even though the Linuces I have tried in recent time have been quite well behaved, my memories of earlier distros still haunt me.


And a warm welcome to new DayNoter, Greg Lincoln. Apparently he knows a thing or two about Linux.

Thought for the day:

If pleasures are greatest in anticipation, just remember that this is also true of trouble.

Elbert Hubbard


Thursday 5 April 2001

Greg Lincoln writes:

Hi Jonathan,

In your Tuesday daynotes, you mention that you will have to purchase a mail server as Suse doesn't come with one.

Suse comes with Postfix, which is a highly capable sendmail clone, and should stand up to even the most demanding email loads. It is used in situations where hundreds of thousands of messages are send/received each day.

I use it here at mazin.net and I am relatively certain that Brian uses it. It is very easy to configure. Basically it "just works" and once installed and running will automatically accept mail for anyone who has an account on the machine. You will need to configure some things to start such as what domain to accept mail for, and the like. There are docs for postfix at www.postfix.org.

You may also want to run a pop3 server, and qpopper, available at www.qpopper.org is what I use. It is also very easy to configure, and anyone with an account on your machine will be able to pop their mail. Note that you should get the free version 3.1 unless you need something 4.0 provides that 3 doesn't.

Best wishes, -- Greg Lincoln LinuxHardware.org Head Writer www.linuxhardware.org

Thanks for the heads up. My SuSE came with a flyer touting various SuSE products and it included SuSE Email Server II at several times the cost of SuSE Pro. In the list of products included with SuSE Pro there was no mention of mail.

And from my friend Richard:

As some of you may know there is a census coming around on August the 7th.

For those who don't know, a census is where the government collates general information about it's residents (number of people living in your house, religion, etc) If there are enough people in Australia, who put down a religion that isn't mentioned on the census form it becomes a fully recognised and legal religion. It usually takes about 10,000 people to nominate the same religion.

It is for this reason that it has been suggested that anyone who does not have a dominant religion to put "Jedi" as their religion.

Send this on to all your friends and tell them to put down "Jedi" on their census form.

And remember ......If you are a member of the Jedi religion then you are by default a 'Jedi Knight'.

So If this has been your dream since you were 4 years old.... Do it cos you love Star Wars, If not........... then just do it to annoy people.

May the Force be with you!"

Hmmmmm! I once shared a flat with a guy and we put down Humphrey (the cat) as resident on the night of the Census.


Fran placed epoxy putty in the cracks between the plywood sheets in The House of Steel's gutter while I screwed down the boards on the front deck. Late in the day, Fran finished off the last few boards while I watched. The writer of the pay cheque has that privilege. We are now as up to date as can be without the arrival of more materials. The final coat of urethane cannot go on the gutter before Monday and the missing bridging has yet to be delivered by Stramit. Tony can start welding the external stairs whenever he wants, but for some reason his newborn son (today) and wife have all his attention at the moment.

Thought for the day:

Like other occult techniques of divination, the statistical method has a private jargon deliberately contrived to obscure its methods from non-practitioners.

G. O. Ashley


Friday 6 April 2001

Today it's off to the city for a spot of lunch with some colleagues in the computer industry. They foolishly think that my impending 50th birthday on Monday is some kind of milestone, so they are buying me a gourmet lunch. They also intend to pick my brains over some computer issues. 

And speaking of computer issues, it seems Tom Syroid is having problems sharing printers with Samba. Apart from internal email services that I have yet to tackle, printer sharing has been my buggerboo with Linux. Perhaps my dream of a Linux knockoff of MS Small Business Server is still just a dream.

Thought for the day:

You are never given a dream without also being given the power to make it true. You may have to work for it, however.

Richard Bach


Saturday 7 April 2001

John Dominik is shocked by the appearance of my picture in the header of this page. Apparently, he imagined me to be "tall, skinny, elegant, balding man with a pipe or something". Well, I was shocked, too. You see, apart from the balding bit I was tall, slim and elegant until quite recently. Then, a year or two ago, I started to suffer from a tennis heel. The pain worsened slowly but surely until I was forced to visit my doctor who announced that the only sure-fire cure was to avoid walking for several months. I have been a keen walker for many years and copious amounts of walking kept my weight under control.

The tennis heel fixed itself roughly coinciding with the commencement of The House of Steel and I expected to return to my former shape, but alas, weight is rather more easily gained than lost. I have absolutely no intention of restricting my diet to rabbit food, or any other such nonsense. Yesterday's light lunch was chicken livers with rice accompanied by a local Pinot followed by Cabernet Sauvignon. Garry and John ignored the accumulation of messages on their mobile phones and we spent the rest of the afternoon at the Vic getting merry. Upon discovering that it was a birthday celebration (albeit 3 days early) Libby (the most beautiful barmaid in the world) offered me a birthday kiss. She ignored my offer of a chaste cheek and planted a wet one right on my lips. Talk about shocked :-) I had no idea good, married  Roman Catholics behaved so wantonly!

Thought for the day:

I'm tired of all this nonsense about beauty being only skin-deep. That's deep enough. What do you want -- an adorable pancreas?

Jean Kerr


Sunday 8 April 2001

What on earth does organic farming have to do with computer operating systems?

There has been an interesting debate on the DayNotes backchannel and as one would expect from such a heterogenous group, a measure of disagreement. In this instance it's whether conventional or organic production is the most economic. One DayNoter pointed out that plants cannot tell the difference between synthetic nitrate and ammonia from that produced by decomposing organic matter. Of course that is true but misses the point that plants are perfectly capable of utilising nitrogen in forms other than nitrate and ammonia. And plants that are not force-fed on nitrate and ammonia are more robust and produce better flavoured crops.

Then someone who has grown tomatoes hydroponically weighed in with the fact that those tomatoes had superb flavour. While that would have been partially due to variety, the real test of organic produce versus conventional is usable shelf life. Organic produce keeps much longer than conventional.

And this led me, as usual, to think about some of the issues in the division between the two sides. Many years ago, Tasmanian farmer, Bert Farquhar started growing pinus radiata in plantations. Initially, he had problems with seedlings not thriving until he inoculated the soil they were grown in with some soil from below an already thriving radiata pine. This was real muck and mystery stuff and totally unscientific according to the scientists working for the Forestry Commission and they continued for some years to plant out pine seedlings that refused to thrive.

The organism that Bert had transferred to his pine seedlings is a fungus, one of a class called mycorrhiza. Mycorrhiza live partly in the plant root and partly in the soil. The mycorrhiza trades phosphate for carbohydrate with the plant it's growing in and both benefit. Pinus radiata is an extreme example where the host cannot thrive without its mycorrhizal partner. Many plants have been found to benefit from mycorrhiza even though they do not die in their absence.

This is just one example of farmer knowledge being initially labelled as unscientific and later research showing how and why the process worked. Bert went on to become the owner of the largest farm in Tasmania paying a record Australian price for Wyambi and Rushy Lagoon at that time. Over a period of years, he doubled the stock carrying capacity by introducing European earthworms to soil devoid of them. Luckily, there was an agricultural scientist with an interest in earthworms, Mike Temple-Smith, available to monitor progress.

Of course this sort of thing enrages the agricultural chemical companies -- there's not much in the way of a product to sell in the preceding examples. They much prefer to fund research into the effects of a chemical they have a patent on and then selectively publish the bits that show how effective it is. Masanobu Fukuoka refers to such research in his book, One Straw Revolution. He was researching the effect of a particular insecticide on a rice stem borer. Much to his surprise, the rice treated with the insecticide had a significantly lower yield than the control. Repeating the experiment produced the same result. He concluded that the stem boring insect thinned the rice plants to a spacing for optimum yield. Of course the manufacturer of the pesticide never published that result, only the effectiveness of the pesticide at killing the stem borers.

As time goes by, more of this organic farming information disseminates among farming communities throughout the world. Some farmers go completely organic, most are content to adopt only those ideas they feel comfortable with. I well remember a broccoli trial by one of Tasmania's largest producers. He grew a paddock of broccoli on a very inexpensive spray of fish emulsion and was ecstatic with the result. The conventional fertiliser salesman said, "You'd be better off pissing on the crop for all the nutrients that were in the fish emulsion". The farmer replied that maybe that's what he'd do for the next crop, rather than waste his money on chemical fertiliser!

In the face of dwindling demand for their products, the agricultural chemical industry has focussed on genetic engineering and patenting crop varieties. This way they can force farmers to purchase seed, rather than grow their own and also purchase chemicals that the crops are dependent on. When pollen from those patented, genetically engineered crops crosses with neighbouring crops, the chemical companies hope to be able to levy a tax on those crops that now contain the patented genes. Even better, they have introduced potatoes with genes from the popular organic pesticide, Bacillus Thuringiensis. This will almost certainly enable insects to develop resistance to the BT toxin and hopefully force farmers to return to more profitable (for the chemical companies) insecticides.

There's a parallel here between the Open Source Software movement and the organic farming industry, the closed software systems of Microsoft, IBM, Sun and Apple with the agricultural chemical industry. The agricultural chemical companies sell chemicals to solve the problems caused by their previous chemicals. Microsoft et alia sell new operating systems with a promise that they will overcome the problems of their earlier efforts. The organic agricultural movement sees itself as enriched by the free sharing of ideas, likewise the Open Source community shares its ideas freely. If we sell each other something for a dollar, we are no better off than when we started. If I give you an idea and you give me an idea, we both now have two ideas each, rather than one.

Thought for the day:

Every revolutionary idea seems to evoke three stages of reaction. They may be summed up by the phrases: (1) It's completely impossible. (2) It's possible, but it's not worth doing. (3) I said it was a good idea all along.

Arthur C. Clarke


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© Jonathan Sturm 2001

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© Jonathan Sturm 2001