Ephemerides

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 31 December 2001

The last day of the year finds us still frantically working on The House of Steel. What an exciting journey it has been. The next three weeks will be even more frantic as the completion of the house is in sight. That leaves us a week for preparing for the housewarming on Australia Day, 26 January.

-oOo-

Bob Thompson has a pointer to an interesting anti-Microsoft rant. Problem is, the author remembers history with the benefit of hindsight and is more than occasionally inaccurate. Paraphrasing, Windows is inferior to Unix because it's a GUI running atop DOS. Heck, I thought X-Windows was a GUI running atop Unix. It's an idea I wish had been retained in NT.

But the article did lead me to recall when I was first getting serious about computing, circa 1990. I attempted to purchase a Macintosh, but the sole Mac shop insisted I needed an Amstrad with a mono CGA screen for my word processing needs. Anyway, the Mac I lusted for was an SE 30 and if I recall correctly, cost close to $A10,000. Way beyond my means at that time. So I shelled out around $A3,000 for an 8 MHz Zenith 286 with 3 MB of RAM. It was the second and last PC I purchased with an OS (MS DOS 3.3 and Windows 286). Despite the anti-Microsoft author's assertion that purchasing a computer without DOS/Windows is all but impossible, I have never had that problem.

At the time, the friend who taught me the basics of computing was heavily into his Amiga, he called it his toy, and was extolling the virtues of Unix ahead of any other OS. He declared it the OS of the future. In deference to the wisdom of this Pick veteran, I attempted to install a Unix, I can't remember which, and failed miserably. My 286 was more than happy with DR DOS 3.x (much better than the supplied MS DOS) and JP Software's 4DOS command processor. Even if the machine is supplied with an OS, nobody ever forced you to use it!

The Zenith was without doubt the most unreliable machine I ever purchased and it put me off brand-name machines for ever. My first 386 SX inherited DR DOS/4 DOS and MS DOS 3.3/Windows 286 went to the purchaser of my Zenith. But not the MS Mouse or Zenith keyboard. The mouse still works and the keyboard developed a sticky space bar a couple of years ago.  But back to OSs. The hype was all about OS/2 in those days and eventually I purchased a copy. To date, I have never succeeded installing it on any of the many machines I have owned. To use it I needed to borrow an IBM PS/2.

I was given a late beta of Windows 95 (Chicago) and for the first time ceased to lust after a Mac. Following the release of Windows 95, I visited a nearby ISP and signed up for access to the Web. They ran their system on Sun and Solaris. I was very impressed by this and after hunting around the X-Windows on one of their workstations, I asked about applications -- word processing, spreadsheeting etc. "Oh, we use Windows for that kind of stuff!" And since that's the kind of stuff I do, Windows has been an essential part of my computing.

For a large part of my computing career, there hasn't been a real alternative to Microsoft's main apps. WordPerfect for Windows was too little too late, Lotus 123 lagged Excel etc. Apart from the manifest virtues of Unix on the server side, Unix on the desktop hasn't yet arrived at chez Sturm. Perhaps it will in 2002. I find myself looking forward to SuSE 7.2 and completion of the house should give me the spare time for a through investigation. But it's the availability of useful apps that will determine its utility.

Thought for the day:

The end is never as satisfying as the journey. To have achieved everything, but to have done so without integrity and excitement is to have achieved nothing.

Unknown

Current Listening

Robert Wyatt -- Rocky Bottom


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Tuesday 1 January 2002

Having aroused the ire of some fanatics with yesterday's post, I will add fuel to the flames by talking about something... well, not completely different. I happen to enjoy gourmet food, preferably home grown, preferably organically grown. I also happen to enjoy a good nosh-up of fish and chips and occasionally baked beans on toast. A few months ago, I purchased some plastic "outdoor" chairs for The House of Steel. They were supplied by Chickenfeed who sell only the cheapest of products and they cost all of $A7 ($US3.50) each even though they are Italian. The dining chairs I am making for The House of Steel would cost at least $A200 each purchased from a store. But I'll let you in on a secret -- the Chickenfeed chairs and the hand-made stainless steel and Myrtle chairs keep your arse the same height above the floor! Yes, there's a world of difference in quality, but they are functionally far more similar than dissimilar.

In all things there's a range of products available, all the way from cheap and cheerful through to stuff only millionaires can afford. Microsoft commoditised computing. They produced cheap and cheerful software to run on cheap and cheerful computers. Apple could have done it. They pioneered the market for PCs with the Apple II line. But they were obsessed with the Mac and pricing their product out of the reach of the hoi polloi. IBM could have done it, but they didn't believe the market existed. Commodore could have done it with their Amiga line, but chose not to.

BillG's Microsoft made computing available to anyone with an IQ higher than a fence-post. That does not make him evil. I agree unreservedly that Microsoft's software is cheesy, the boxes I own that it runs on looks like shit compared to Macs and are far less impressive than a Cray. If I were a millionaire, I'd hire a programmer or two to write a decent word processor for me and it would be influenced as much by Borland's Sprint as it would be by Word. But I'm not and that makes computing for me and most of the rest of the great unwashed, MS clients by default.

Apart from recognising that the hoi polloi "needed" computers, the big difference I detect between Microsoft and its rivals is that of litigiousness. While Lotus, Apple, Ashton Tate et alia were suing the pants off all and sundry, BillG said: "WTF! Lets push more product!" That's just the way things panned out. Live with it!

On this, the first day of the New Year, I have no doubt that there's someone out there on Planet Earth plotting to take a big slice of what is Microsoft's pie. And I'm willing to bet they will succeed. Some of us can remember when BillG was the shining hero taking on the "Evil Empire" of IBM. Sooner or later, it will be Microsoft's turn to be taken on by an underdog. Funnily enough, I don't think the Linuxen understand any of this, so I'm watching Athe OS real close.

Thought for the day:

The softest things in the world overcome the hardest things in the world.

Lao-Tzu

Current Listening

Sparks -- Angst in my Pants


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Wednesday 2 January 2002

Mark Zimmerman is always an interesting read. This piece on the use of optics by many of the Masters of Renaissance art is well worth a look. The thesis is not particularly new; I came across it while still in high school back in The Dark Ages when one received a well-rounded education. It's well known Canaletto used a camera obscura and my recollection of the article I read at the time pointed out that there were indications that Vermeer had used something with a lens. Mark's piece is about a mathematical approach, rather than the observation of the way Vermeer painted highlights that flared.

-oOo-

A long day today. I worked at The House of Steel from 1 am until 6 pm. Then I slept for 10 hours before awaking to write this. This time last year, we were mainly waiting for things to happen.

-oOo-

From my friend and colleague John Stephenson:

Howdy,

Hope the House of Steel is coming along nicely. Looks good so far.

I had fun the other day battling a nasty piece of malware called the new net client. This evildoer allows you to access some new top level domains which are really fake. It re-directs DNS so things like suck.xxx or chips.shopping become useable addresses. This has nothing to do with .biz .info or any of the new authorised top level domains.

Anyway, this sucker is installed with little or no warning to the end user and that was where the trouble started. It kills proxy. It stuffed the client's machine so that IP just didn't work as expected. Microsoft were little help, they suggested a patch (un-tested) that would fix proxy. When applied, this did nothing. After much searching, I was ready to blow it away, but found http://www.cexx.org/newnet.htm where some clues revealed the answer.

The following method restored the PC to full working order:

Uninstall new dot net client in control panel.
Reboot.
Uninstall Proxy client.
Reboot.
Delete Winsock 2 registry entry.
Remove TCP/IP protocol from control panel networking.
Add TCP/IP protocol back again.
Reboot.
Delete tldctl2c from IE tools, Internet options, general, settings, view objects, downloaded programs, if present.
Re-install IE.
Reboot.
Install Proxy client (with patch).
Reboot.

Anyway, if any of your e-friends ever ask about it, you have my research. There are the odd one or two things out there designed to catch newbies and pros alike!

Cheers,

John Stephenson,

Up and Running Computers

Thought for the day:

In fact, words are well adapted for description and the arousing of emotion, but for many kinds of precise thought other symbols are much better.

J B S Haldane

Current Listening

John Cale -- Words for the Dying


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Thursday 3 January 2002

Another day attempting to contact tradesmen who didn't arrive. Eventually, I hear from the plumber and electrician -- both want to come tomorrow, but I will be with a client in the city then! The electrician calls by late. He badly wants to do the work tomorrow. So I show him all that needs to be done. He doesn't take notes, though he does mark where some things are to go. I like this guy. He's personable, friendly, intelligent, technically competent... just totally fsking unreliable! At least Thomas will be here if he needs a hand. I made a list for him:

Task List for Electrics

1. Install power points in island bench in kitchen. 
2. Install plate over cable in wall over stove. 
3. Install under bench lights in kitchen. 
4. Install wall light over trough in laundry. 
5. Mount computer outlets on wall plates in dining area, spare bedroom and Thomas's room. 
6. Remind Thomas he hasn't finished cutting grass or polishing balustrade. 
7. Install power points, reading lights, switches and phone outlet in master bedroom. 
8. Replace fluorescent light in master bedroom (fitting is on bathroom bench). 
9. 45-60 minutes before finishing, get Thomas to put a couple of stubbies* in the freezer. 
10. Trim 60 mm off extension rods of main lights in The Great Hall. 
11. Have Thomas remove the stubbies from the freezer. Drink stubby. The other is for Thomas. 
12. Have a nice day.

Jonathan

* A note for furriners. Stubbies are half-bottles of beer. The beer is Cascade Pale Ale, one of the world's finest beers.

Thought for the day:

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will make me go in a corner and cry by myself for hours.

Eric Idle

Current Listening

Faust -- Faust IV


Top

Friday 4 January 2002

Busy with a client today. 

Thought for the day:

If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.

Sun Tzu

Current Listening

Eno and Byrne -- My Life in the Bush of Ghosts


Top

Saturday 5 January 2002

I knew it was a mistake to allow the electrician to come yesterday while I wasn't there to supervise. Tradesmen are so bad at turning up, you tend to be grateful when they do! One of the drawers in the master bedroom doesn't just occlude a freshly installed power point, it rubs against it. The specialist suffers from a sort of tunnel vision -- only the field they specialise in has any significance. If what they do has an effect on another part of the system, it's someone else's problem.

I had this brought home to me forcefully a decade or so ago at a seminar on pasture productivity for livestock. The agricultural scientist went to some lengths to explain the fertiliser trials and how to maximise nutrient production. I pointed out that the result was pasture that produced sick livestock requiring considerable inputs of veterinary chemicals to keep the livestock alive. "That's an animal health problem, not a pasture productivity problem," was the response. Much better, I believe, to strive for a pasture that keeps the livestock healthy. I was amazed to be told that a 20% mortality in calves was "acceptable".

Thought for the day:

Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.

Harriet Braiker

Current Listening

Kavisha Mazella -- Mermaids in the Well


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Sunday 6 January 2002

My son is growing up, both literally and figuratively. He is taller than me and wears shoes four sizes bigger than mine. Today he spends a lot of time throwing up and lying disconsolately on his new couch. Yes, he has a hangover from the party he went to last night. While I cannot remember the last time drinking so much that I was in a similar state, it was so long ago, I remember it was bad enough that I never wanted a repeat performance. Nevertheless, he doesn't hear much expression of sympathy even though I do feel sorry for him.

These days I tend to fall asleep long before I drink a sufficient quantity to become that inebriated. Perhaps I make a virtue out of necessity.

Thought for the day:

What is the appropriate behavior for a man or a woman in the midst of this world, where each person is clinging to his piece of debris? What's the proper salutation between people as they pass each other in this flood?

Leonard Cohen

Current Listening

Jeff Buckley -- Sketches for my Sweetheart the Drunk


 

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Jonathan Sturm 2001, 2002

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Jonathan Sturm 2001, 2002