31, 2005: Odd Lots
- The new PCs are working pretty well. We still haven't figured
out why the front-panel mic jack doesn't work, and we discovered
that the front panel USB ports can't source much current compared
to the main mobo-based USB ports in back. The back ports (and
powered hubs) can support a Meade
Deep Sky Imager, but the front ports cannot. (Note the heat
sink fins on the back of the unit. It clearly needs a lot of current
- Pete and I have given AVG
Antivirus Free Edition a try on the new PCs, and so far we're
both quite pleased with it. Of course, it's tough to know how
good an AV package is until it spots some viruses, and Pete and
I are both pretty careful, and don't use stuff in which viruses
tend to hide, primarily warez downloaded from Usenet and cracker
sites. But AVG went in easily, downloads updates automatically,
and runs briskly on a 3 GHz machine. (I really like the CGI cartoons
of the virus guys in jail.) My non-renewable sub to Norton 2001
on the Dell Xeon 1.7 runs out in a few days, and I'll be burning
that machine down reconfiguing it with AVG Free as the AV package.
(I'm also going to buy a matched pair of Xeon 1.7 CPUs to see
what SMP is like, even at less-than-cutting-edge speeds.) Symantec
has really gotten on my bad side lately, and I wish someone
would create something as good as Ghost in the open source world.
- Don Doerres sent me a pointer to Bitscope,
a PC-based oscilloscope product out of Australia. If they would
goose the analog bandwidth up to 200 MHz, I'd buy it like a shot.
I need something that will display waveforms well up to 150 MHz
(just past the 2M ham band) and to be sure, I'd like to see a
spec of 200 MHz on it. Still, the prices are way down, and such
things are looking better all the time. First, however, I need
a better signal generator (with FM modulation) and am still looking
for a PC-based digital multimeter.
- On the same topic, Peter Jucius sent me a pointer to Parallax's
Oscilloscope, which isn't suitable for my needs (it can only
display sine waves up to 60 KHz) but it's very cool nonetheless,
especially for PIC or other embedded systems work.
- It's been snowing a lot here lately, and the only thing weirder
than watching guys in Scottsdale wearing 3-piece suits in the
thick of summer (in 115-degree temps) is watching women in Colorado
Springs wearing flip-flops and pedal pushers in a snowstorm.
30, 2005: Degunking Your PC Hits Print!
just learned that Amazon has received quantities of our new book,
Your PC, so it's time for me to spread the word. (You too!
We're still a very small publishing company, so reviews in
any venue at all can help us a lot. Amazon? B&N? User
groups? Whatever you can do would be greatly appreciated.)
This one is basically Degunking
Windows for hardware, cables, and PC configuration issues,
including USB, FireWire, Wi-Fi, wired networks, external backup
drives, TV tuner cards, headsets and speakers, printers, scanners,
and anything else outside the software realm, right down to how
to get the dust bunnies out of your CPU fan.
The book's mission (as with most of the Degunking series) can be
characterized as teaching you how to reduce the entropy in your
office or computer room. Where OS issues come into play, most of
it focuses on XP, though I do cover Win2K in the wired networking,
USB, and Wi-Fi sections.
I'm taking a short break from book writing here, so that I can catch
up on things and decide what to attack next. Stay tuned.
29, 2005: "Silicon Psalm" Reconsidered
I've been getting a lot of traffic on the Terri Schiavo issue,
which I'll try and summarize later this week. One thing that took
me a little aback was a note from a long-time reader who chided
me for the position I took while having written an SF story endorsing
euthanasia. The story in question is "Silicon Psalm,"
which I wrote in 1980, and which was published in Isaac Asimov's
Science Fiction Magazine in the February 1981 issue. It's basically
about a little girl, immobilized by a systemic infection that destroyed
her heart, who asks her AI life-support system to unplug itself.
Remember that I conceptualized this story over 25 years ago, when
it seemed like AI would be easy and artificial hearts difficult.
actually didn't get there until 2001, and the technology is
still not a sure thing.)
If you haven't read the story yet, and would like to, it's here.
(PDF.) Be aware that the rest of this entry will be full of spoilers.
I've gotten mail like this before, and as before, I think people
tend to misread the story. (Furthermore, people sometimes assume
that authors always agree in all ways with the themes presented
in their fiction. Not so.) It explores a common theme in my technical
fiction: That, far from creating machines that will dominate us
or destroy us, we may in fact create machines who will love us too
much, and give us anything we ask for. Cora asks MACS to let her
die. MACS, who is for the most part pure intellect, realizes that
she will spend years immobile in a hospital bed, constantly in jeopardy
from blood clots, with little chance of growing up or leading a
normal life. He is intimate with Cora in a way that no human can
be, with sensors that monitor her brainwaves and all her biological
functions. He is aghast at the pain and bitterness that he senses
in her directly. He knows that his two prime directives, to preserve
life and abate pain, are sometimes in conflict, with no easy resolution
anywhere that his logic can grasp. When deadlocked, he lets his
love for Cora override his caution, and he grants her wish. It's
love without wisdom, not that AIs have any monopoly on that.
No, I don't think that it was a good idea, and yes, had I been
there I would have intervened, and stopped him. But the whole point
of the story (which I kept back until the end, which may have been
a mistake) is that MACS knows with complete certainty that he will
pay the ultimate price for his decision. Like all computers that
control important things, he has logs, and he cannot lie. His masters
will know what he did, and they will respond by erasing him completely.
MACS pays not merely with his life, but with something we might
call his soul. Contrast that with Terri's situation: No one who
controls her fate carries any risk in the decision. (Some of us
suspect that Michael Schiavo will have some explaining to do someday
when he follows her in death, but that's not for us to judge.) Would
Michael or all those judges have acted the way they did if they
knew that they would pay with their own lives for taking Terri's?
Don't be ridiculous.
At the time I wrote the story, I was also thinking that we should
never let a machine make life-or-death decisions, and that a human
being would never have let Cora die.
Damn, what a naive ass I was.
28, 2005: I'm High on Line Voltage
Pete packed up Vlad the Impala earlier this morning and headed
back to Costa Mesa, his new computer safely packed in the back seat,
next to his big telescope. We got to use the telescope only briefly
one night, which was the only clear night during the ten days that
he was here. Admittedly, March is the worst possible month to attempt
to do astronomy in Colorado Springs, but given that I was hosting
an old friend from the tropics (i.e., Orange County) I could have
done with a little less than the 10" of snow that fell while
he was here.
And rockets? Heh.
Still, on that single night we caught a couple of interesting images
on a Philips ToUCam, which I'll post here after Pete does his usual
magic with them in K3 CCD Tools and PhotoShop.
I'll summarize some of what we learned building the PCs later this
week. Today, I'm confronting a mystery that manifested itself in
several burned-out lightbulbs in the space of less than a week.
One of them burned out so spectacularly that it popped the breaker
serving the laundry room. Three of the spots in the kitchen ceiling
are now out, along with the bulb in the exhaust fan over the stove,
and two of three ceiling fixtures in the laundry. All this happened
in calm (if not clear) weather, without any storms in the vinicity.
All burned out at the moment I hit the switch.
After grinding my teeth for a few minutes, I got smart and put
Triplett multimeter on one of the outlets in the kitchen. 124VAC.
124. Egad. Line voltage should hover between 115V and 120V.
In all the nine houses we've lived in (a couple of which were rentals)
I've never seen 124V on the wall. And while 124V is not instantly
fatal to an ordinary tungsten-filament light bulb, it will severely
shorten its life.
So...what's your line voltage?
I'm a little nervous now putting vintage electronics on the house
power grid, simply because it was designed long ago, when line voltages
hovered down around 115V. I have a fat variac that I can use to
adjust voltage down a little on a single unit if I need to, but
I can't put it on the whole damned house.
What I've started wishing for is a PC multimeter, just as I've long
wished for a PC oscilloscope. Such things exist, but I haven't seen
much on them in terms of reviews. (Interestingly, most of the hits
for "PC multimeter" are in German.) My ideal would be a
small box to which you attach a couple of probes, and then plug a
USB cable into a PC. The PC would act as UI for the multimeter, and
allow a few things that the old Triplett couldn't have dreamed of,
like automatically taking a reading every minute for a week and then
charting the voltage reading on a graph over time. Things like the
H0471 look promising, but I'd sure love to know what all the software
does (and how well) before I pop for it. I already have more multimeters
than I need, and I don't want another disappointment.
27, 2005: 50 Cents Worth of Chemicals
Easter Sunday. Terri Schiavo. What can I say? That Terri will die
soon is likelyand that she will rise again to a higher consciousness
(from which both understanding and forgiveness are easier) is something
that anyone who claims to be a Christian believes, as the true promise
of Easter. Only God knows the true hearts of men (and women) and
only God can judge Michael Shiavo's true motives. Is he genuinely
concerned for Terry's welfare? Or is he simply trying to be rid
of an inconvenient wife? (He is apparently living with another woman
already and has had children by her.)
This is being hashed endlessly around the media and the blogosphere,
and while some points are being made everywhere, there are a few
crucial ones I haven't yet seen. Many people have remarked that
Terri doesn't seem to be in any kind of pain. It would be good to
know that for certain, and I would think that, given the current
state of brain research, we could perform some non-invasive tests
that would pin the matter down with certainty. Why aren't we doing
A sage few have remarked that if Terri wasn't in pain before, she's
probably in pain now. Dying slowly of dehydration and malnutrition
is an ugly way to goin fact, it's one of the least
humane ways to perform a "mercy" killing. The conservatives
who have been saying that "If we can make the decision to pull
her tubes, we can make the decision to shoot her in the head"
are confusing the issue and ignoring the main point: If we can make
the decision to pull her tubes, we can make the decision to sedate
her until her heart stops. It's a proven, reliable technology, and
as best we can tell it causes no pain. Back in April 1995 I held
Mr. Byte in my arms, wrapped in a towel with my right hand under
his heart, and after the vet hit him with the Last Shot, he was
gone in nineteen seconds. I counted, knowing that these were the
last moments I would have with a creature I loved deeply and would
never see again.
So why haven't we done that with Terri? This, people, is what we
should really be afraid of: That it's easy, and it's fast,
and it's painless, and it's cheap. Fifty cents' worth of chemicals
and 90 seconds would send Terri back to her Creator. And if it can
be done once, it can be done again, and again, and again, without
end. Deciding to end Mr. Byte's life was a horror. Deciding to end
Chewy's life in 1998 was easier. (The aftermath, however, was just
as hard.) I would guess that among people whose lives are focused
on animals, the decision is made on a regular basis and is cold,
rational, and plain.
The real danger in the Terri Schiavo case is that her death
will be long and drawn-out, and at some point she will be clearly
seen to be suffering. Someone somewhere will suggest that there
is a better way (now that the courts have given us that "right")
and the next person in Terry's shoes will be gone in those ninety
After that, heaven help us all.
24, 2005: CPU Coolers
Something interesting happened when Pete replaced his broken PC
cooler with a new one ordered from BananaPC. (See my entry for March
21, 2005.) His machine started running cooler. His typical CPU
temperature went from about 110°F down to 100°F. Ten degrees
is significant, so I shrugged and installed the (identical) spare
cooler on my PC. My PC stayed in the same ~105° place it had
been from the outset. There may be a lot of difference in CPU temperature
(the sensor diode is actually on the CPU chip itself) stemming from
relatively tiny differences in how the cooler seats atop the CPU.
The original one (which ran a little hot) may simply have not seated
as well as the second one did on Pete's machine.
The cooler assemblies themselves were nominally identical (both by
Intel, both intended for CPUs up to 3 GHz) but the two heat sinks
were radically different. The heat sinks that came with the CPUs looked
like the one on the right above, and the replacements were like the
one on the left. Pete ventured the opinion (based on his work with
air-cooled automotive engines) that the left-hand heat sink was more
efficient, since it had four paths of low thermal resistance away
from the copper core, and thicker vanes generally. The right-hand
heat sink, by contrast, had a larger number of rather thin vanes.
The fact that the CPU temp on my machine didn't change significantly
argues against that, but Pete's machine now runs cooler than mine.
Neither of us has a grip on how significant the difference may be,
but both coolers are very quiet and we're happy with them.
23, 2005: Saved By Seagate's DiscWizard
Fixing the damage caused by System Commander 7 took some doing,
at least in part because it's hard to tell precisely how it does
what it does. Pete and I ran up to CompUSA and bought a copy of
Partition Commander 9 and installed that, hoping it would fix what
was broken on both boot drives. Nada. I did some Web sleuthing,
and found that Seagate offers a free disk drive management utility
which you can download as a bootable CD ISO. We downloaded it, but
found that it wouldn't boot on Pete's system, and we never understood
why. DiscWizard booted on mine, and allowed me to delete the wounded
partitions and format the whole damned thing up to the rafters.
That was the end of the problem for me; after that. Win2K went in
like it was greased.
We fixed the problem on Pete's machine a little bit by accident.
On a hunch, I took the Windows XP recovery CD from my XP system
and booted Pete's machine with it. XP didn't have the trouble booting
that 2000 did, and it allowed us to delete what was there, create
three brand-new partitions, and install XP on the first one. We
didn't attempt to activate it, since we had already bought copies
of Win2K, and neither of us likes the way XP is constantly phoning
home and refusing to run after you change even a minor system component.
Instead, we booted Win2K and then used the Win2K installer to nuke
the XP partition and completely repartition the drive yet again.
Whatever System Commander 7 had done to Pete's 200 GB boot drive,
XP fixed it. After that, both machines settled down and allowed
us to get on with configuration and software installs.
Needless to say, this left me with a sour taste in my mouth for System
& Partition Commander. Instead, I'm experimenting with using Ghost
to clone the first partition into the other two Win2K partitions,
and then editing boot.ini to throw up a boot menu allowing me to choose
the boot partition. Although this seems to have worked, I haven't
quite perfected it yet: Even though I can boot into partitions 2 and
3, both of them "see" the first partition as drive C:. Not
good; the whole idea behind multiple boot partitions is to keep software
in one partition from messing things up in another. More research
is clearly called for. My guess is that there's a configuration option
somewhere that will make the three partitions more nearly independent,
and eventually I'll find it. In the meantime, I have a wonderful fast
machine a-building, and should be able to swap it in for this one
(my 3-year-old Dell Xeon) in a couple of weeks.
22, 2005: Slamming Into The 137 GB Barrier
Hoo-boy. We thought the fans were a hassle. Then we ran into the
137 GB barrier. (The fans arrived at 1 PM today, and the replacement
went into the wounded box in fifteen minutes, of which 14 were spent
making sure that the item we ordered was identical to the
one we broke.) Shortly thereafter, we did some fiddling with disk
partitions, using V-Comm's System Commander 7.04. It was all downhill
Some background: Until 2001 or so, hard disks using the ATA/ATAPI
interface were limited to 137 GB in size. As usual, it's a bit-length
problem: The original IDE/ATA/ATAPI spec only included 28 bits for
addressing sectors. This gives you 269,000 sectors, which (assuming
512KB sectors) adds up to 137 GB of storage total. That's a lot
of disk, but the astonishing explosion in hard drive capacity has
now taken 400 GB drives down into easy consumer territory. Some
years back, (I think 1999 or so) Maxtor saw this coming and launched
Big Drive initiative, out of which came SATA 6, some BIOS extensions,
and some OS patches. Using 48 bits for logical block addressing
(LBA) gives you a maximum drive capacity of 144 petabytes. (A petabyte
is a million gigabytes.) Never say never, but in truth we
won't be bumping our heads on that barrier for a couple of years
yet. There is a whole (excellent) site about this problem here.
None of this is a secret. I knew about the 137 GB barrier going
in. I checked to be sure that the mobo/BIOS supported 48-bit LBA,
and that Windows 2000 could handle it. (You
need Win2K SP3, but that's what I bought for both systems.)
There are gotchas and cautions everywhere: You
need to add a registry key, but I know how to do that. Even
though Win2K SP3 supports big drives, the Win2K
SP3 installer cannot create a partition larger than 137 GB.
To make the boot partition larger than 137 GB you must use a third-party
utility that can resize partitions. What I was careless about (and
got into trouible with) was System Commander. Version 7 goes back
to 2001, and apparently doesn't know how to handle 48-bit LBA drives,
and when we used SC 7 to resize the boot partition on Pete's main
drive, all hell broke loose.
SC 7 apparently damaged something in the formatting or the partition
table that made it impossible for the Windows 2000 installer to deal
with the drive. Even after we nuked all partitions on the drive, the
Windows installer would only get so far before throwing a blue-screen
of death error that I have never seen before, in all the time I've
been using NT/2000/XP. It's late and that's basically where we left
it. Tomorrow we're going to get a little more creative. I'll let you
know what happens. Right now I need some sleep.
22, 2005: NOP
We took most of today off for church reasons, and due to a visit to
our church by our diocesan bishop, I have some things to say in this
space, but Pete and I are fighting with hardware and I haven't had
a moment's time to get it all down. Check back here in a few days.
21, 2005: Fan Blade, Meet Finger
We had our first hardware problem this morning, and it was kind
of dumb, actually: One of us was using a wet finger to test airflow
from the CPU fan while the system was running, and got a little
too close to the blades. Finger met blade, and blade snapped off
clean. (Finger was not damaged.) Pete, ever the craftsman, superglued
the blade back where it came from, but neither of us was comfortable
running a CPU fan with one blade glued on.
While searching for a replacement fan, we learned something remarkable:
The exact same cooler units are
available on the Web, for as little as $8. Apparently, people
buy the Pentium 4 retail package from Intel, install the chip, but
use a different cooler. (My guess is that most of these are overclockers,
or else people installing two CPUs in one case, which may require
more aggressive cooling.) The extra coolers from the broken-out
retail packages are then sold for cheap. We ordered two. One of
them is going into the damaged machine, and the other one will remain
as a spare in case we do something dumb like this again. Actually,
I'm not happy with a fan made of a plastic that breaks so easily,
but the coolers are so quiet I'm hesitant to get a third-party replacement.
Once we button both boxes up and consider them complete, the CPU
fans should be out of jeopardy. Nice to have that spare on the shelf,
The fan adventure slowed us down some. We got Windows 2000 installed
on both machines, but that was as far as we got today. The fans will
come tomorrow and we'll be back in the saddle.
19, 2005: Building PCs in Parallel
wasted no time getting down the serious business of building new
PCs. I set up two tables in the corner of my workshop, and we got
underway this morning. The idea was to build two identical systems
so that if one started acting flaky, there were at least two people
who had some experience with that identical hardware and (mostly)
identical software environment.
We've been designing the systems for some time, and it was interesting
to me that the system I had roughed out was very similar to the
"mainstream PC" in the
Thompsons' recent book, Building the Perfect PC. Mainstream
is a good word, and readers who might want to ask me why they're
not cutting edge should consider that these are workaday PCs for
two guys who will both make their livings on them. (Pete is a mechanical
engineer who does technical writing, editing, and translating in
the automotive industry.) The idea was a quiet, reliable, upgradable
and serviceable machine using standard parts that can be purchased
and delivered overnight and swapped out in a hurry. No more proprietary
boxes that can't be upgraded. Been there. Bought that. Regretted
Here's a quick spec of what the new boxes will have, and why:
- Pentium 4, 3 GHz, Prescott core, socket 478. Go faster than
that and you have to trade off cooling for quiet. We're using
the Intel coolers that come packaged with the chips, and so far
they're both effective and quiet.
Sonata case. Quiet. Very quiet. Plenty of power, and
more than enough room for all the disks and front-panel gadgetry
we might ever want.
- Intel D865PERLK
motherboard. We're using the on-board sound. The mobo has
400 MHz USB, FireWire, Gigabit Ethernet, and 2 SATA ports, as
well as all the usual stuff. Remarkably, it also has a fiber optic
audio connector, though I don't know yet whether we'll ever do
anything with it. Would be fun to try, though I don't have anything
else to connect it to.
- ATI Radeon 9600 SE video board. Nothing special; we're not gamers.
I want reliability rather than 3-D acceleration, and we certainly
don't want a video board with yet another damned fan on it.
- 200 GB Seagate SATA NCQ main boot drive. Several partitions
will eventully happen. So far it's just Windows 2000.
- 400 GB Seagate SATA NCQ second drive.
- Plextor 716X optical drive. All current DVD/CD disc formats.
floppy drive/9-way card reader from SIIG.
- A front-bay USB hub of some kind, to be added later.
We assembled the two PCs in parallel, step by step, and were very
careful about it. We might have done it in an hour, but we spent
probably four hours on the hardware alone. It was amazingly easy;
in fact, it was almost like tinkertoys. It helped some that the
mobo, CPU, and cooler were all from Intel, and mounting the cooler
didn't require slobbering up the CPU with thermal goop. (It came
with its own phase-change goop.) The Antec case is designed to be
worked on lying down, and the several internal drive bays open toward
the side panel rather than the front of the case.
We didn't get into the software today, and my intuition is that
we will spend a lot more time working on the software than
we did on the hardware. That shouldn't surprise anybody. Modern
motherboards have devoured what used to be separate subsystems on
plug-in boards: Sound, disk controllers, network controllers, and
virtually all other I/O. The bulk of the work, in fact, was dressing
cables neatly around the inside of the case so that they weren't
a tangle that would block the PCI bus slots. Everything else was
plugging connectors into headers.
Well, Day 1 was fun. I'll keep you informed as we progress.
18, 2005: Sounds Like a Plan
My high school friend Pete Albrecht drove out from Orange County
yesterday, and got in about nine PM last night after a 16-hour drive.
We've got a lot planned:
At least that's the plan. The PCs are Priority #1, and depending on
how much time that consumes, we'll do out best to get to the rest.
I'll try and summarize what goes on here. If it sounds like we're
reverting to our adolescence for the week, well, yeah. Everybody should
do that once in awhile. Me, I'm way overdue.
- Pete brought his great big 12" Meade computerized telescope,
and (weather permitting) we're going to do some serious observing.
- We've bought enough parts for two identical custom PCs, and
we'll be building and configuring them over the coming week.
- While Pete was cleaning out his parents' house after his dad
passed away a month or so ago, he found several dusty model rockets
that hadn't seen action in 30 years. I was in college the last
time I fired off a rocket, and I'm looking forward to some flaming
17, 2005: In Our House One Year
As of this afternoon, we've been in our new house here in Colorado
Springs for exactly one year. St. Patrick must have been smiling
on us, because except for one significant failing, the house has
served us well. The contractor didn't compact the fill in front
of the house to specs, and after the wet spring we had last year
(the first breaking of a four-year drought) the fill settled by
almost a foot, and our front walk (poured directly onto the fill)
basically disintegrated. We approached the challenge of decorating
slowly and carefully, and decided to live in the house for a bit
before we filled it completely with furniture and knicknacks. The
idea was to fit it out with furniture and other gear that would
make our lives easier and more comfortable rather than just get
in the way. We're still thinking about what the house needs, and
I'm still building various storage solutions in the basement and
in the garage. In a couple of years, we expect to have a house that
does what we need and stores what we have without clutter or compromise.
We're quite happy with it at this point...
...but that doesn't mean we're ever likely to do it again. The
aggravation of having to keep an eye on the contractor for almost
nine months was extreme. For example, during framing, Carol and
I saw to our horror that they had forgotten to frame the south window
in my office here. Had we not spotted it the day they framed, they
might have had to tear out a lot more stuff, possibly including
ducts and electrical runs. There are personality types who can do
this sort of thing with aplomb, but ours aren't among them.
Still, we're glad we're here, and we're going to be here for awhile.
I've never had an entire mountain outside my front door. I could live
in worse places, heh.
16, 2005: Ghostbuster and Other Rootkit Killers
The network security world is buzzing about Microsoft's Ghostbuster
project, the goal of which is to identify rootkits
that have taken hold of a Windows installation. As I understand
it (and published details are still a little sparse) Ghostbuster
is a utility that first creates a sort of fingerprint of the running
Windows installation, as the rootkit allows Windows to be seen.
(Rootkits hide themselves by controlling what files Windows allows
users and software to see. Its own files become invisible.) Ghostbuster
then boots from its own CD without booting the infected sopy of
Windows, and creates a second fingerprint of the Windows installation.
The rootkit code can prevent software running under Windows from
seeing its filesbut unless the rootkit is in memory and operating,
its files are detectable just as any files on a Windows hard drive
are. If the two fingerprints don't match, file-for-file, there's
a rootkit in there somewhere.
This should work. Microsoft hasn't said whether they will release
Ghostbuster, and if so, under what conditions. (My fear is that
there will be rigmarole involving proving that your Windows install
is legit.) As I pointed out in my March 2, 2005 entry, Sysinternals
is already distributing a utility (Rootkit
Revealer) that does something like this. My suggestion to drive
the nail into Windows rootkits goes a little further: Create an
open source tool that does the job, and include it in a Live CD
version of Linux, like Knoppix. Drop such a live CD into every system
box of every PC that goes out of every door. Make "Check Windows
partitions for rootkits?" a question asked on the first screen
the user sees.
It may not the final answer to rootkits (not running as root/administrator
all the time is probably the best answer) but it may be the best we
can do, near-term. Long-term, well, we may need to put our Ring 0
software (for Unix as well as Windows) in ROM.
15, 2005: "Vere Are Your Papers!"
"Vere are your papers!"
I swear, if I see that in another online or newspaper editorial,
I'm going to start throwing things. It's become a sort of script:
When you want to diss the idea of a national ID card, the first
thing you do is invoke that hoary old meme of a Nazi soldier demanding
paperwork from some hapless (and now probably doomed) spear carrier
in a bad war movie. After that, thoughtful discussion pretty much
ends, which (of course) is the idea. People who think that suppressing
debate has been the sole province of liberal PCers should think
What we need to do is stop talking about whether or not we will
allow the Feds to issue a national ID card, and instead discuss
the consequences of the national ID card that we already have. Don't
be naive: All fifty states issue a difficult-to-forge photo driver's
license, and if by preference or disability you don't drive, all
fifty states will issue you a hard-to-forge photo ID card. The premier
photo ID is a US passport, which ever more of us have, now that
international aviation is so cheap. Without a photo ID, the richness
of your life implodes:
- You can't drive, fly, or (I think) take Amtrak.
- You can't rent a car.
- You can't buy booze if you don't look like you're at least 40.
- You can't open a new bank account.
- You can't buy things by credit card in a lot of places. (Home
Depot has started IDing me in recent months, and many other local
retailers have done so for a long time.)
- You can't travel outside the US.
- You can't get any but the most menial jobs.
and probably another fifteen or twenty items. Most people don't
seem to mind all that so much, and I don't think the Nazi meme surfaces
when they produce an ID card to buy plywood at Home Depot. However,
when a law enforcement officer says, "Sir, may I see some ID?"
you had better have it in hand, or bad things will happen. How is
that different (apart from being more polite) from someone saying,
"Vere are your papers?"
The real issues with a national ID card are these:
- How easily it can be forged.
- What we will allow governments to do with the back-end database
- Under what circumstances government operatives can demand that
we produce it.
In all the recent racket about homeland security and the national
ID card, I see no discussion whatsoever about these issues in major
media. (Bloggers who bring them up are looked upon as right-wing
militia types.) Note well that all three of these issues involve
both a hypothetical national ID card, and the state-issued "national"
ID cards that we already have in our wallets. The Feds are pressuring
the states to contribute photo ID data to a national database, and
if that happens, well, it's unclear what additional value a national
photo ID card would provide to the Feds.
Anyway. Apart from being a stupid, worn-out ethnic slur, the Nazi
papers meme only distracts us from what we should be talking about
with respect to personal identification mechanisms and government
monitoring of citizens. It's not something we can stop them from doing.
They're doing it already. The most we can do (if we choose to pay
attention) is limit the damage.
14, 2005: Live Lettuce
and I have a problem shared by a lot of single people and couples
without children who don't eat much: We often can't finish perishable
food before it perishes, and good Catholic kids that we are, we
feel very guilty about wasting food. We haven't bought a head of
lettuce in years because it's difficult for us to eat the whole
head before it starts getting wilted and funky. Our friends David
and Terry Beers recently introduced us to an elegant solution to
the problem: Live lettuce. Heads of butter lettuce are now sold
with the root ball intact (see photo at left) which means that the
plant can remain alive in the fridge for quite awhile, certainly
long enough for us to finish the whole head. We leave the head in
the refrigerator in the plastic container it came in, and tear off
a couple of the (large) leaves as needed for the core of a small
The brand we buy is from Live
Gourmet, though there may be others on the market. Butter lettuce
is less bereft of nutrients than iceberg lettuce, and simply tastier,
and I recommend it. It's not espeecially cheap, but I had begun to
miss lettuce at home, and it's nice to have fresh salads with most
evening meals again.
13, 2005: The Problem With Liberal Talk Radio
In addition to its cover story on talk radio generally (see yesterday's
entry) The Atlantic published a separate short commentary
piece on why liberal talk radio (which is a thin field; basically,
Al Franken's Air America
plus debris) is more likely to become a liability for Democrats
than a route back to power. Author Joshua Green recounts the early
history of conservative talk radio, reminding us that when Rush
Limbaugh basically invented the genre, his perspective was cultural/populist
rather than partisan. His rants and political humor were aligned
with the complaints of a certain class of people who felt put-upon
in various ways by the Democratic nanny state. We've mostly forgotten
that Rush didn't like the elder President Bush, and freely skewered
Republicans whom he felt were not aligned with the needs of his
After Republicans took the House in 1994, Rush made a fatal mistake:
He changed his alignment from his listeners to the Republican Party.
The show became partisan. Gone was any criticism of the Republican
agenda or individual Republican politicians, and Rush took up certain
fringe Republican causes that he had not taken up earlier, including
a mostly inexplicable (and hugely unpopular) campaign to dismantle
Federal school lunch programs. Many of his new causes were much
less in the minds of ordinary people than Republican party extremists,
and moderates give him a certain amount of credit for re-electing
Bill Clinton in 1996.
There were thus two "ages" of conservative talk radio:
A pre-1994 populist era, and a post-1994 partisan era, with Rush
Limbaugh basically defining both almost entirely on his own. In
creating Air America, liberals are hoping to duplicate conservative
success in the populist First Age, which gave Republicans control
of the House. What they've done, however, is launched their own
talk radio efforts in the mold of the Second Age, when conservative
talk radio became partisan, mean-spirited, and increasingly disconnected
from the interests of ordinary Americans. In Green's own words:
Talk radio will never
be a forum for measured debate, though Al Franken occasionally
offers a wicked dose of humor, as Limbaugh once did. But taken
as a whole, the network is already infected by the corrosive negativity,
strutting egotism, and bizarre paranoia that marked much of what
traversed the conservative airwaves in the late 1990s.
Basically, whereas conservative talk radio morphed into a hatefest
after 1994, Air America was launched as a hatefest, with
G. Gordon Liddy's nutcase exhortations to kill ATF agents weirdly
echoed by Randi Rhodes' suggestion that the best way to be rid of
Bush would simply be to assassinate him. (Which would make Dick
Cheney the Presidentclearly, Air America is not thinking it
The real problem with today's talk radio on both sides of the political
divide is this: Neither is changing any undecided minds, as
populist conservative talk radio did pre-1994. Neither side is making
any effort to try. Both sides are simply whipping their own fringes
into a lather, while the people in the middle for the most part tune
out in horror. By making liberal hatred of Bush, Republicans, and
the culture of our red states a commonplace on the air within red
states, Air America is confirming what conservative talk radio has
been preaching for years: that liberals loathe everything that red-state
America stands for. It may feel good for liberals to listen to Al
Franken foam at the mouth, but no one seems to have imagined how red
staters will respond to hearing themselves labeled as fagbaiting fascists.
Joshua Green (and I) suspect that it won't help much in turning any
least part of our red states blue.
12, 2005: The Atlantic on Political Talk Radio
The cover story of April's issue of The
Atlantic is a gritty look at political talk radio. "Host"
examines popular LA talk show guy John
Ziegler, his rowdy right-wing political talk show on KFI, and
uses Ziegler's show as a framework for explaining the logistics
and economics of the talk show industry itself. Some of you may
know most of this stuff already, but I'm a talk show virginbelieve
it or not, I've never even listened to Rush Limbaugh or Dr. Laura.
So for a change in recent months, The Atlantic was telling
me something that I didn't already know and actually wanted to understand.
My first reaction: It's a nuthouse. It's not news, and it's not
information, nor is it technically even editorializing. It's really
a form of entertainment, and beyond that, a kind of religion-without-Jesus
where prophets are acclaimed by the faithful according to the degree
of wild-eyed frothing-at-the-mouth validation that said prophets
can arouse in their followers. For the stations, all of that is
incidental except that the formula is immensely popular, and brought
AM radio back from near-extinction after FM stole the music franchise
by the early 1980s. (Our house never had an FM radio until I bought
one in 1974, but once I did, I never went back to AM.)
Tellingly, the advertisers who are making talk radio stations rich
(talk radio revenues have risen 10% a year for more than a decade)
are the stuff I see most often in spam: hawkers of nostrums like
CortiSlim, Altovis, and Enzyte ("herbal male enhancement"),
mortgage and refi companies, and sellers of apocalyptic favorites
like hand-crank radios and hyperinflation hedge funds. LA station
KFI (quietly) characterizes much of the audience as "frightened,
credulous, and desperate." The content and delivery are belligerent
for a reason that the author, David Foster Wallace, explains succintly
in a sidenote:
It is, of course, much
less difficult to arouse genuine anger, indignation, and outrage
in people than it is real joy, satisfaction, fellow feeling, etc.
The latter are fragile and complex, and what excites them varies
a great deal from person to person, whereas anger et. al. are
more primal, universal, and easier to stimulate, as implied by
expressions like "He really pushes my buttons."
In other words, thoughtful reaction is much more diverse than inarticulate
fury, and harder to use to create a solid Arbitron rating among
a predictable demographic. I was struck by how cynical and calculated
the whole thing is, once you get beyond the talk-show stars themselves.
Station owners and managers are not necessarily conservative themselves,
except to the extent that businessmen generally are. (We're talking
something well beyond "conservative" here, to reactionary
lunacy.) They let the whole thing happen because it's big money.
It's different among the hosts. Ziegler himself appears to be sincere,
in that he actually believes in the things he says, and there's
big money in the format because his fans have nowhere else to go
to hear what Ziegler is offering them: Fiery condemnation of political
correctness and refutation of the liberal leanings of mainstream
media, especially TV. (One proof of TV's liberal bias that even
I find convincing is that when popular lefty newspaper cartoonist
Ted Rall disgustingly labeled Condoleezza Rice as Bush's "house
niggah" there was not a peep in the big papers or on TV. Imagine
the gates of TV hell opening upon a right-wing cartoonist's headif
such a creature even existshad he drawn a cartoon of Kweisi
Mfume as the DNC's "house niggah.")
Perhaps the single most interesting part of the (long) article
in my view is the analysis of just how rare and difficult a talent
it is to make a talk show work. A talk show host must be widely
read about the issues he cares about, and must be able to speak
passionately and yet comprehensibly without umm-ing or ahh-ing or
relying on body language, for very precise time increments,
bringing a segment to a satisfying conclusion neither a second too
late nor too soon, all while achieving peaks of emotional intensity
that would render an ordinary man mute. Most people become inarticulate
when they become furious, especially in real time. Arguing persuasively
while angry is an unappreciated skill.
The best part of "Host" is that it gave me a concise understanding
of talk radio without my having to endure the agony of actually listening
to it. That's what I pay The Atlantic for, and this one article
probably earned the subscription's keep for a full year. But boy,
I'd sure like to see more articles like "1491,"
from the March 2002 issue. (The link is to my discussion; the article
itself is not available free online.)
11: Reading Less and Less of The Atlantic
I used to report regularly on the contents of The
Atlantic, but for the past year or so, The Atlantic
has published mostly on politics, a topic I find depressing and
don't much care for. More and more of each issue goes unread, and
at some point I'll have to face the hard decision of whether or
not to renew, after subscribing for a great many years.
People sometimes argue that at some level, everything is
politicalbut if you look closely enough at anything, you'll
find that it's made of atoms, and the insight isn't especially useful.
My counter-complaint is that what we call "politics" is
a very narrowly bounded personality game: Why we should hate George
Bush, why we should hate Howard Dean, whether Ted Kennedy is an
asset or a liability to the Democratic Party, how Dan Rather can
deny having a liberal bias, and on and on and on. It's the same
cast and the same plot, no matter where I turn, and I'm pretty tired
of it all, especially given how predictable most of it is.
I'd read more of The Atlantic if they thought a little more
about what politics really is, and went out and got the kinds
of stories that would shed lightreal lighton how politics
actually works. The history and evolution of Chicago's political
machine would be something I'd read, having lived a little of it.
A solid story on redistricting and gerrymandering would be worthwhile,
especially if it tapped some of the alternative ideas that are floating
around. I guess it cooks down to the fact that I'm tired of hearing
about political persons, and (if I'm stuck with politics as a topic,
going forward) would like to hear more of political processes, political
history, and (especially) offbeat, bi- or non-partisan political
The April issue of The Atlantic came in a few days ago, timed
bang-on for a week that I was forced to spend either lying down or
sitting like a limp rag in my big leather chair. I've decided to read
the whole thing, however distasteful some of it might be (it's got
nothing on Nyquil) and if anything interesting comes of it,
I'll report over the next couple of days.
10, 2005: Odd Lots
I'd sure like to do more than pass along some links as Odd Lots
today, but I'm afraid that's all I summon the energy to do:
More tomorrow, or when I can move again.
- Bill Leininger sent me a link to a
nice page with some additional information on the "magic
finger" tuning indicator tube. (It's in German, but it's
mostly pictures, with a very nice photoanimation.) Apparently
the tube is mounted upside-down on a carriage that moves horizontally
behind the glass tuning dial, and when you tune it past a station,
the light on the two sides of the tube converge. When the two
sides merge into one long illuminated line, you're on the beam!
- Rick Widmer sent me a link to a
discussion of how a gated-beam discriminator operates. Fascinating
business! It's a little like the quadrature detection technology
used in FM chips like the MC3362, and certainly the simplest tube-based
FM detector I've seen, assuming you don't count a slope-tuned
- I don't recall if I posted this before, but RemedyFind
is a Web site on pharmaceuticals, prescription and non-prescription,
that allows users to post reviews of drugs they have taken for
various illnesses. I was up there a lot earlier today, checking
out things like Afrin and Flonase for side effects. I'm struck
by the variation in reactions different people have to different
drugsand also the sheer number of things that some people
are taking simultaneously. Pharma companies can test for interactions
involving two drugs at a time, but what happens when people are
popping five or six different chemicals at once? Isn't this a
little like the three-body problem in physics? No wonder so many
of us are half-nuts.
9, 2005: Discovering Gated-Beam Discriminators
Not quite flat on my butt with this cold, but I'm closing in on
it. I spent today alternating between periods in bed and periods
in my big chair when I couldn't stand to lay there in bed anymore.
Anyway. I guess I'll be short. I thought I was a tube guru, but
today I stumbled upon a species of FM detector that I had never
heard of before. It's called a gated-beam discriminator,
and it relies on a specially designed tube to simultaneously limit,
detect, and audio-amplify an FM signal. A circuit can be seen here.
(Scroll down some.) If that's truly all there is to it, I need to
find out more, because I see no fussy discriminator or ratio detector
coils, and the tubes are cheap. The 6BN6
is only $4.40 from Antique Electronic Supply, and there is an $8
that throws in a power pentode to bring the detected audio up to
I have no clue how this circuit works yet, and probably won't be
able to research in detail it until I feel better, but it's amazing
how life tosses you these little surprises now and then. (Ok, I'm
easily pleased today. My nose hurts!) One more thing: Another
species of tube that I've never seen, presumably a species of
magic eye, but I don't read Japanese.
Back to the saline spray.
8, 2005: Virus Odd Lots
Some odd lots from the Viruses? I'll give you viruses! file:
Lotsa stuff to get into when I can think clearly again. Hang in there.
- My cold got way worse last night, and my voice is now
totally gone. Viruses, heh. I can barely whisper. So whaddaya
know, WBBM-AM in Chicago called me and asked me to be on their
drive-time show this evening, talking about, couldn'tcha guess?
viruses. (Not the kind tormenting my nose, at least.) Alas, I
couldn't make enough noise to be heard, so I lost the slot, though
I asked them to keep me in mind for other things...starting about
a week from now.
- Several aggregators have cited CommWarrior.a,
a new virus infecting the Symbian mobile phone OS. It propagates
through text messaging, and there's almost no way you can tell
that you've got it. You may never know, in fact, until the next
bill comes, and you find that someone or something has sent 65,000
text messages, at a quarter apiece. Ouch. At least you can avoid
it by not installing it. One wonders why this is so hard...
- Reader Ed Keefe ran afoul of a novel adware/spyware system that
defeats anti-spyware software by checking for its presence at
boot time with a Windows service. If it doesn't find itself, it
will simply go out and re-download and reinstall itself. And if
you disconnect the PC from your broadband connection while you
boot, the service hangs and won't let the boot process continue.
If we can prosecute twelve year olds for downloading MP3s using
their IP, surely we can catch the bastards behind this scheme
using their IP...but without a corporate ox getting gored, nobody
seems especially interested in shutting this stuff down.
- Symantec was having some problems with their LiveUpdate servers
the other day, and various versions of NAV started throwing up
a console window, displaying mysterious techie stuff that almost
nobody can decipher. The client was basically bitching that it
can't find its server, but an awful lot of people thought they
had contracted a new virus or worm. Sometimes it's hard to tell
the good guys from the bad guys. (Whatever happened to plain English
7, 2005: Girlfriend's What?!??!
Bags of this have started appearing
in local grocery stores. What were these people thinking?!!??!?!
(I have dibs on sending it to Bacon, by the way.)
6, 2005: Mr. and Mrs. Jesus Christ
Every time I find myself at a bookstore, I flip through The
Da Vinci Code, trying to figure why the hell this thing has
been so popular for so long. The writing is nothing special, and
I already know the plot, which was lifted almost verbatim from Michael
Baigent's Holy Blood, Holy Grail material. The "Big
Secret" is that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, and (probably)
had children. Most Christians (including Catholics) consider the
very idea blasphemous, quite apart from the fact that it is absent
from both Scripture and Tradition.
I completely agree that this is a fabrication. However, the interesting
question (to me, at least) is why a married Jesus, with children,
should be blasphemous. If I can hazard an answer, it's because
of three interrelated Christian heresies: Manichaeism, Arianism,
and Donatism. Arianism holds that Jesus was a Godlike man, but not
God; Donatism holds that Jesus was a manlike God, but not man. Arianism,
having gone extinct around the year 1300 or so, has re-arisen in
our modern culture, where in New Age circles Jesus is called a "great
teacher" and perhaps "the most ascended of all human masters"
but not God. Arianism came about because in the very early Church,
Christians were living in the thick of polytheism, which dominated
every culture around them. They were very jealous of their novel
idea of one supreme God (inherited from the Jews) and some Christians
could not grok the mystery of the Trinity, and thus had trouble
with the notion that God the Father was God, and so was Jesus.
Arianism is a classic example of the hazards of applying pure reason
to a theological mystery. It surprises us today, but it was the
educated people of the time who (having failed to understand the
Trinity by the application of pure reason) considered Jesus' divinity
a challenge to monotheism. The great illiterate unwashed had no
trouble thinking of Jesus as God, though in truth some of them thought
of God the Father and Jesus as separate, coequal Gods.
Although the New Age bristles with Arianism, Donatism may be our
more urgent problem these days. I see a great reluctance in many
Christians (including Catholics) to accept the reality of Jesus'
humanness. Like a lot of other things, this can be traced back to
Augustine, who mangled the concept of original sin into original
guilt, which he taught was transmitted by the sex act. Once the
Augustinian view of sex and original guilt took hold in the West,
it was a short path to the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of
Jesus. This is where Manichaeanism comes in: Sex, bodies, and the
physical world are considered depraved and completely separated
from spiritual reality. Jesus, being perfect, could have none of
that. From Manichaeism it's a short path to Donatism, which teaches
that Jesus only appeared to be human. His humanness was a
miraculous disguise, which appeared completely human to other humans,
but which in essence was solely divine.
Jesus was of course without sin (his humanness was limited in that
he did not inherit Original Sin and thus the inevitable propensity
to sin that everybody else has) but if he were married, there would
be no sin in his engaging in the fully human task of procreation.
Jewish teachers in Jesus' day were expected to teach not only by
words but by example, and "Be fruitful and multiply" was
considered an important commandment from God himself, laid down
in the Jewish law. As best we can tell, Jesus didn't marry nor have
children, but I see nothing objectionable in the possibility.
The oft-raised objection that children of Jesus would be "half
God" is absurd, once you understand orthodox Christology. The
Holy Spirit imparted the divine nature to Jesus; his human nature
came from his mother Mary. Absent another miraculous intervention
by the Holy Spirit (unlikely, heh) children of Jesus would be children
solely of his human nature. They might be really good children,
but they would be no more divine than the rest of us.
If Christianity did not lay such total emphasis on Jesus' divinity
(to the neglect of His humanity) books like The Da Vinci Code
would lose a lot of their attraction. In my view, a married and
fathering Jesus is an unobjectionable hypothesis without supporting
evidence from Scripture, Tradition, or history. It's not true,
but calling it blasphemous is a slander on humanness, which is of
course what Manichaeism is all about.
There are times when I think that we'll be wrestling with Manichaeism
for the rest of human history. We started to get a grip on it after
Vatican II, but most of those gains have since been reversed. Pope
John Paul II has a strong Manichaean tendency, obvious from his encyclicals.
(Does anyone but me actually read them?) As the poor man (whom
I nonetheless admire) sinks down to the very human humiliation of
death, many people are trying to get a grip on his legacy. Manichaeism
is part of it. I'll return to this topic in a future entry.
5, 2005: My All-Tube Stereo Amp
took a much-desired Saturday morning off from doing Useful Things
and instead went downstairs to make metal shavings. The project
at hand is one that's been rattling around in a box for six months
or so: A tube stereo amp, built in a real metal chassis, like those
Real Men used to build Real Electronics Projects in, way back an
unreal number of years ago. The circuit is from a 1965 GE Electronic
Components Hobby Manual, and is relatively simple: Two 6T9 Compactron
triode-pentodes, two output transformers, some biasing parts, a
power supply, and supporting electronics. What I got done this morning
looks impressive (see photo at right) but all I did is drill and
punch the chassisno wiring done so far, and in fact I have
a little more figgering of holes to do yet. (I haven't quite determined
where the filter cap is going to go.)
I'm not going to go on like those tube audio maniacs who praise
the "warmer" sound of tubes as superior to solid state.
I don't buy it for a second. Solid state makes (slightly) better
sound, but that's never been the point here. I have a contrarian
love for things that light up and have a lot of metal in them, especially
things I designed with this here head and strung together with these
here hands. The device I designed will put out 4 watts of audio,
which is more than enough to fill my workshop downstairs, and if
you grab the power cord and swing it around your head in a brawl,
it will do some serious damage. (Try that with an IPod, heh.)
Now, the circuit is not entirely original with me, but I redesigned
the input circuit to handle low-level audio from a sound card, rather
than a crystal phono cartridge. I also redesigned the power supply
to suit the transformer and choke I had on hand. I may also have
to refigure the bias resistors, but I won't know until I get a lot
farther along. Once I finish and prove out the amp, I'll post the
final circuit here. In the meantime (since I'm not sure how legal
it might be to scan and post the original GE material) I can point
you to something
similar that appeared in Nuts & Volts Magazine last
Building things is a good part of what life is about. I haven't done
this in awhile. It's good to be back.
3, 2005: Crows, not Toucans
not a toucan ashtray at all. (See my entry for March
1, 2005.) It's a crow ashtray. Says
so right on the box, though the image severely stretches what
a crow looks like. (Carol says she'll always think of them as toucans.)
I wasn't able to find out much online, other than they were made
by Tempo Manufacturing Company of New York and were fairly common
and relatively inexpensive. One completed auction on EBay went for
99 cents. Most sold for $10 or under. Not exactly a priceless collectible,
I saw another almost identical ashtray from the same manufacturer
that used a pair of alligators rather than birds.
Another thing I looked for were black ceramic panther statues,
and found a load of them. This
is pretty close to what I remember, though many of the panthers
were part of a "TV
lamp." I was at a loss to explain why a TV needs a lamp
badly enough to spawn an entire industry with several Web sites
(look for tvlamps.com, .net,
and .org!) but this
document explains it all, and shows us a green panther TV lamp
Nobody I know has the black panther lamps anymore. Almost by definition,
the valuable kitsch goes in the trash long before it becomes valuableand
probably that's why it's now valuable. (My Aunt Josephine threw away
her much despised depression glass and bought that jazzy, up-to-date
Melmac tableware about 1958. So it goes.)
2, 2005: Odd Lots
- If you haven't been following Virgin Atlantic's Global Flyer
mission, aiming to be the very first nonstop solo around-the-world
flight, definitely tune into Mission
Control. As I write, the craft has been airborne for 47 hours,
is well over halfway back to Salinas, Kansas, and is currently
over the Pacific about a thousand miles east of Japan.
- Intel has
announced something I've been expecting for literally decades:
Through-Silicon Vias (TSVs). What this means is stacking multiple
finished chips vertically within a single package, with "dimple"
connections between the top and bottom surfaces (not simply the
edges) of the chips. These are etched into the chip as part of
the fabrication process. There's a very nice animation here
showing how this works, and it's better than any short explanation
I could give you. TSVs allow not only dense packaging, but also
extremely fast data paths between chipsand my only concern
is that it will make heat dissipation, which is already something
of a limiting factor in chip speed, even tougher to do effectively.
- In answer to the threat of Windows rootkits (see my entry for
February 18, 2005) those wizards over
at Sysinternals have
Revealer, a utility that can determine whether a rootkit has
taken hold of your Windows installation. I don't recommend Rootkit
Revealer to your granny, but knowledgeable Windows geeks will
have no trouble with it. (Thanks to Bob Ball W0VNO for the pointer.)
- Which brings us to yet another interesting question: Can a rootkit
install itself (via virus or worm) on a system running as a limited
user account? True enough, most people run Windows 2000 and XP
as administrator, but how solid is the protection of doing most
of your ordinary work (especially online work) as a limited user?
- After I speculated whether Microsoft would ever allow Windows
XP to be run from a read-only medium (see my entry for February
25, 2005) Michael Covington pointed out that Microsoft already
PE, which boots from a CD and allows you to get at NTFS volumes
without any additional fuss, something not as easily done with
Knoppix and other Linux LiveCDs. Unfortunately, Windows PE is
not easy to get, especially for end users. (I don't think it's
included in MSDN; it's really for PC hardware OEMs.) A chap named
Bart, however, has a fascinating
Web page and associated software explaining how to create
a sort of LiveCD image of Windows XP from a conventional copy.
1, 2005: Our Solid Chrome Toucan Ashtray
friend of ours gave us something his parents had bought a long time
ago: A chrome ashtray with two chrome toucans mounted to it, beaks
opened enough to grip a cigarette. He gave it to us in part because
toucans are Carol's totem animal, and also in part because we already
had another identical ashtray. I was very surprised to see another
one of these, and it made me wonder just how common they were back
in the 1950s or whenever they were current.
I've begun to think that these were a fad at some point, rather like
the black glazed ceramic panthers that 1950s families tended to have
on top of (and sometimes under) their console TV sets. We had one,
Carol's family had one, and my Aunt Josephine had one, and those panthers
are now highly prized in ye olde 1950s nostalgia shoppes. I'd be curious
to hear from anybody who had one of these toucan ashtrays, especially
if you can tell me when they were made and by whom.