Ephemerides

A Daily Diatribe by a Pompous Git

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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 9 September 2002

Despite The Git's uncommunicativeness, things have been happening at The House of Steel -- mostly consisting of The Git following his doctor's advice by resting in bed for much of the time. The expected time to recovery is apparently in the order of 5-6 weeks, or so. Pooh, bum and wee-wee!

For the last week Tasmania's weather has lived up to its reputation with gale-force winds and copious rainfall, so The Git felt a little less guilty than he would have had the weather been fine.

On Saturday, The Git did A Very Foolish Thing -- he applied Win2k SP3 to his main workstation without doing a complete backup of all changed data following the previous backup. His excuse is having a brain-fart under the influence of codeine. None of what went missing is irreplaceable, but will entail some work that should have been unnecessary. More pooh, bum and wee-wee!

Win2k SP3 did some very naughty things to the workstation, most notably to Office2k. The message when attempting to run any Office application:

This application must be installed to run. Please run Setup from the location where you originally installed the application.

Running Office Setup produced:

Windows installer service could not be accessed. This can occur if you are running in Safe Mode or if the Windows installer is not correctly installed. Contact your support personnel for assistance.

Since The Git is the support personnel, he queried the MS Knowledge base. This produced the advice to install the latest Service Pack, so he dutifully installed SP3 once more. Same result! Installing the Office installer fix that fixed this problem the last time it occurred (in  a slightly different form) resulted in a repeat of the above Ring Around the Rosie. Pooh, bum and wee-wee again!

The last clean install of Win2k on the machine, The Git made a backup to a partition on the second hard disk, but that was overwritten when the 17 GB Seagate hard disk in Thomas's machine failed a few weeks ago. So, it was clean install time again. This was when The Very Foolish Thing occurred. The Git started to back up the main data partition, took a pain-killer and went to bed for a while. Upon awakening, he forgot that it was only the main dataset that had been backed up and not a smaller, less important subsidiary set that won't fit on the same CD as the main dataset. <sigh>

The Git is a Great Believer in Partitions to make life easier, but maintaining a separate partition for Win2k and applications seemed a bit more than needed. Partition Magic made short work of merging the two partitions and for good measure, The Git also eliminated the Win98 partition as he hasn't used it for many long months and then it was only to play a desultory game of Myst because it's too crap to run on Win2k. Immediately following the Win2k and drivers install, The Git applied SP3, followed by Office2k with none of the hiccups of what had occurred before. It was then that he realised he had committed a grievous error! The partition that The Git had assumed was the applications partition had in fact been the data partition. Crap! Double crap!

On a brighter note, The Git has been testing Site Publisher as a replacement for MS FrontPage's flawed FTP publisher. In a nutshell: 

The only con is a small one: the English in the online help is somewhat strange due to it being the programmers' second language. I have come across far worse and found no difficulty following the instructions so far. The price of $US24.95 for a single user licence seems eminently reasonable for an application that makes life easier, rather than more complicated.

On Saturday, ABC Radio National broadcast A Portrait of Sir Karl Popper and The Git very much enjoyed hearing the great man's voice for the first time. Radio National's Science Show is a highlight of the week for many Australians interested in science and these days it can be listened to via the Internet, either live or in Real Audio format.

Many thanks for the commiserations for The Git's back problems. As he recovers, he may even manage to thank all his well-wishers personally. The priorities right now are to resume regular blogging and catch up on some vital day-to-day stuff that has remained in abeyance for the last week.

Thought for the day:

Accept the challenges so that you can feel the exhilaration of victory.

Gen. George S. Patton

Current Listening:

Ian Dury -- Lord Upminster


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Wednesday 11 September 2002

After my last post the phone lines died. It turns out that a 150 pair cable at the local telephone exchange went bad. Today, we had a power blackout as well, so Thomas and The Git sat on the front deck in the spring sunshine for a few minutes. Despite the breeze blowing an occasional spatter of raindrops on us, it was a very pleasant change from alternating gale force winds and torrential rain. The last couple of days have been very bad pain-wise and it was a relief that today was much better so I could be out of bed. Spending a couple of hours editing The House of Steel book this morning was a real boost to the sense of wellbeing.

Thought for the day:

Any idiot can handle a crisis--it's this day-to-day living that wears you out.

Anton Chekhov

Current Listening:

Steeleye Span --- All Around My Hat


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Thursday 12 September 2002

It seems to me that capitalism is the donation of a little bit of money from lots of people for a common cause: hospitals, insurance companies, factories, museums etc. Ownership can be either private where the donators of the money are in control, or by the state where taxation provides the money supply and the elected government makes the decisions. The private system encourages a variety of differing approaches and the latter presupposes that a rather small number of people elected by popular vote know more about how to run those enterprises than the people nominally in charge of them.

Actuality is that we have a bizarre mixture of the two systems. Some private ownership and control, but with outside interference from the elected government, or more accurately, the servants of the government who remain in place regardless of election results. It's these latter, the bureaucrats, that hobble the system. For an example of how the tail manages to nearly always wag the dog, the British satirical comedies, Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister come highly recommended. They are available in book form as well as the TV series.

One of the best measures of the health of a country is the condition of its farming systems. In the US and the EU, most farm income is from the bureaucracy and many farmers are paid to not-farm, or the bureaucracy purchases products for which there is no market and stockpiles them. This makes economic sense only to bureaucrats and presumably the lucky recipients of taxation largesse. The Greeks were well aware of this shortcoming of democracies, that when the populace discovered it was easier to obtain money form the public coffers than to be productive, the collapse of the state was imminent.

Fortunately for the health of Australia, we reversed this trend in farming some years ago. The intervening years have been painful, but Australia's current better than average economic performance can be attributed to there being a lot fewer unproductive people in the system.

Farming is peculiarly sensitive to the issue of well-timed decisions. So much so, that there is a saying: Q. What's the difference between a good farmer and a bad farmer? A. Three days. Here, I think lies the crux of the problem of government/bureaucracy/control. People who relish making challenging decisions prefer to be at the coal-face of business. People who find making decisions difficult, or even repugnant, populate government and bureaucracy. More and more decisions are becoming the province of the bureaucracy, rather than being made by the people directly involved. These are the people who really know what's happening because it's part of their day-to-day lives.

Bureaucrats accumulate their knowledge as data, previously on paper, but vastly more of it now we have computers. They remain amazingly ignorant of the fact that knowledge consists of far more than can be captured in data.

Thought for the day:

I never remember feeling tired by work, though idleness exhausts me completely.

Sherlock Holmes

Current Listening:

Sparks -- Angst in my Pants


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Friday 13 September 2002

Bo Leuf writes:

Farming is hazardous indeed in this day and age.

And links to this story about Percy Scmeiser.

Bummer! Percy was in Australia recently to warn us of the problems we are likely to face as a result of this insanity. So far, GM has cost Canada 30% of its canola exports.

The Git has written before that the major crop yield limiting factor is water, not plant genetics, not fertiliser. Often it's lack of expertise. Farmers will often irrigate pulse crops far too early, limiting seed yield. Irrigating at pod-set increases yield. Too bad if all the available irrigation water was used up earlier in the season.

-oOo-

The Git is likely to be compensated by SWMBO's car insurance for his injuries. Filling out the form was interesting. It seems most car accidents involve drivers and pedestrians, not Pompous Gits working on chainsaws in the presumed safety of the carport.

Thought for the day:

Being intelligent is not a felony, but most societies evaluate it as at least a misdemeanour.

Lazarus Long

Current Listening:

Hassell and Eno -- Possible Musics


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Saturday 14 September 2002

The Git received an email from someone who had better remain anonymous. It included the sentence: "It has been done also in the west a few times." 

Australia very much contributed to its being ignored by the rest of the world for a long time. There was an attitude that if it was Australian, it was inferior. A sort of mirror-image of the American attitude. Happily, the days of The Cultural Cringe appear to have passed. We can now freely admit to having invented the automatic record player, heavier than air flight [1], the radio telescope, the humidicrib, cross-chess, the automatic potato-digger, the stump-jump plough, the reaper-binder, noise reduction for recorded music on film, the black-box flight recorder, the heart pacemaker, penicillin, wine-casks, the refrigerator, plastic banknotes, the flame ionisation detector, the discovery of quasars...

[1] Actually, that was New Zealand, but few people outside the Antipodes can tell the difference.

-oOo-

Australia is set to turn the world on its head. An ice-core study that has finally been completed turns climate modelling on its head. The climate models have all shown the current interglacial to have commenced in the northern hemisphere 14,500 years ago. This study to be published in Science later this week concludes that it started in the southern hemisphere 500 years earlier. Tens of thousands of samples from the Placer Dome core have taken 15 years to analyse to give us the most time-accurate picture of past climate yet.

I guess that means all those climate models that predict our warming future will need to be rewritten. Or will the warmers claim that the study is "tainted" in some way so that it can be dismissed as "irrelevant"?

-oOo-

Holden Aust writes:

I've enjoyed reading your website for some time.

I was wandering around the web and stumbled across a Austrialian website which carries the ECS brand motherboards.

A while back on your site you were considering motherboards and I wanted to recommend the ECS motherboards to you and spent a little time trying to find out if they were available in Austrialia, but didn't have much luck finding them, then, and today I came across this site by accident - isn't that much the "Way of the Web"?

Anyway, I've been using several different types of ECS motherboards for over a year, both for 20 to 30 business PCs, as well as a dozen or so for friends and coworkers' home PCs. I've used quite a few of the K7S5A motherboards and some of the K7SEM (which has built-in video). These motherboards are based on the SIS chipsets and have performed very well, using Windows and/or Linux (the built in video works fine with SuSE Linux). They are quite fast and use any of the AMD Athlon or Duron cpus and are very reasonably priced (either of these motherboards currently costs $55 in the US and you can get a 900 MHz Duron for $30 US, so you can put together a PC for less than the retail price of a copy of Windows). ECS is apparently one of the largest OEM motherboard manufacturers and only recently (at least in the US) started selling their motherboards on the retail market. I would encourage you to try one of the ECS motherboards the next time you upgrade or build a new PC.

The Australian website has the K7SOM (a mini-ATX motherboard which I haven't used, yet) for $144 and the K7S5A (the full-size ATX board I have used) for $160. Both of these motherboards have two pairs of DIMM sockets, which take either a pair of DDR RAM or SDRAM (you can't mix and match) - that gives you the advantage of starting out with your old SDRAM and later upgrading to DDRAM or doing performance comparisons between the two types of RAM, etc. Both boards have embedded Ethernet and Sound, but these two boards don't have embedded video.

http://www.i-central.com.au/category5_1.htm

I also wanted to recommend that you give Linux another try sometime soon. I've been using SuSE Linux since SuSE 5.3 and the version 8.0 that came out this past spring is a significant improvement over even version 7.3. The combination of KDE 3.01, OpenOffice 1.01, Mozilla, and Galeon really make a Linux desktop PC a pleasure to use.

If you'd like I could mail you a CDROM of the SuSE 8.0 "Live Evaluation" as it is called (I could also send you a CDROM that has the OpenOffice 1.01 versions for Linux and Windows,if you don't already have that). This is a version of SuSE 8.0 on a CD that boots up and runs from the CDROM. You don't have to write anything on your PC's hard disk, although you can put a couple of small files on the hard disk if you want to make it run faster by creating a swap file on the hard disk and saving your desktop settings on a file on the hard disk, so you don't have to reconfigure your desktop each time you boot up the PC. I don't think you can easily install the version of SuSE on the Evaluation CD onto your hard disk, and running from the CDROM it is somewhat slower than running from a hard disk, but it is a fully functional version and will get you connected to the Internet and using Mozilla and Kmail, so it is a good way to try out SuSE Linux and a nice way to show a friend what it would be like to run Linux on their PC without having to actually install it - plus it also makes a good "rescue disk" if something goes wrong with a Linux installation on a hard disk and you need to boot up from the CDROM.

If you're thinking about trying Linux again on your PC, I guess I would probably wait until the next version of SuSE Linux comes out - probably sometime in middle to late October, if past years are a good guide, since it will probably be even better than SuSE 8.0.

--- Holden --- 

Thanks Holden. I cannot recall ever coming across ECS MoBos, but I have come across peripherals made by them without any cause for noting whether they were particularly good, or bad. I don't have a lot to do with hardware other than what I own. Until recently, a friend was my local source for hardware info, but sadly he is so committed to the superiority of Intel versus AMD, that I, a CPU agnostic, am beyond the pale!

While my first concern when specifying a new machine is the MoBo, the second is the supplier. For several years now, I have purchased nearly everything from EYO. They are less expensive than local suppliers and while there are suppliers who undercut their prices, there is a cost to this. A friend saved $A200 buying from one of them, but the MoBo was different to the one ordered, the Thunderbird had been replaced with a Duron, the monitor, a LiteOn was the worst I have ever seen and to cap it all off, there was a huge impact fracture in the front panel of the case.

Today, I enabled the AC97 audio built into my Asus K7V having removed the Creative Ensoniq sound card for use in another machine. There's no doubt that it's more than good enough for most purposes. I was unable to tell any difference between the two sound devices using my Cambridge speakers.

Yes, I will take you up on your kind offer of the SUSE 8 evaluation CD and the Open Office 1.01. I tried OO 1.0 on Win2k and had some problems that hopefully are now fixed. In truth, I never use any of Excel's advanced features and hardly touch Word these days. Most of my writing is done with FrontPage2k and I sorely miss AutoCorrect. Sadly, Word generates such execrable HTML, it's completely useless to me most of the time. The big problem for me shifting to Linux on the desktop is publishing software. PageMaker and CorelDRAW! suite have no equivalent yet. I suspect I will be sticking with Win2k for most of my work (and playing Civ) on Win2k for a while.

My secondary machine that we rather loosely call The Server is likely to become a Linux box. It's a P200 with 48MB of RAM and is mostly used to burn CDs, host a DeskJet colour printer and browse the Internet while my main workstation does compute-intensive things like video and audio processing. We have been using this machine for playing DVDs and MP3s, but it's not good enough for VCDs, so the 400 MHz K6 that's the current "server" will be swapped with it. Hopefully, the P200 will be up to it. If not, it's quite sprightly running Win95 OSR2. I have had problems with earlier versions of Linux seeing my Adaptec SCSI that runs the CD burner and ORB removable hard disk.

-oOo-

Holden writes again:

Have you read this article? Intel just announced that their chips to be released next year will support Palladium.

I think many of us will be contemplating purchasing machines without Palladium and continuing to use current hardware and software. The music industry has effectively eliminated me as a customer for their crap already. The last few CDs I purchased have been from the musicians and made by independents. My next is likely to be from Janis Ian who has interesting opinions on this issue. As well she's a fine musician sharing her music freely in the knowledge that enough of us will pay for it to keep her in a style likely better than that the Music Moguls ever did. Most of my music listening is material collected over the last thirty years, or so. Most mainstream music is shit and that's why it's not selling!

Thought for the day:

All the others arts are lonely. We paint alone -- my picture, my interpretation of the sky. My poem, my novel. But in music -- ensemble music, not soloism -- we share. No altruism this, for we receive tenfold what we give.

Catherine Drinker Bowen

Current Listening:

Dave Bromberg -- Demon in Disguise


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Sunday 15 September 2002

A most pleasant and quiet day, first with visitors and then a birthdays lunch for a friend at what used to be called The Franklin Tea Gardens (before that The Flying Pig). To save his life The Git cannot recall its new name now it's under the management of Peter and Linda. 

The food is what Elizabeth David described as 

Thought for the day:

 

Current Listening:

Kevin Coyne -- Millionaires and Teddy Bears


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Jonathan Sturm 2002