Friday, 31 August, 2001
According to this report, IBM, Intel, and some smaller firms are coming to the aid of SuSE Linux--to the tune of $45.5 million. Even though SuSE has perhaps the most popular Linux distribution in Europe, the company is still failing. Red Hat here in the U.S. is doing a little better, but hardly setting the world on fire. Other Linux companies (VA Linux, for example, and Loki Games) are having similar problems. Now how was that you're supposed to make money selling something that people can get for free?
It's one thing to see companies like IBM and Intel throwing money at failing Linux companies. $45 million is, literally, pocket change--between the two of them they have over $12 billion in cash. And perhaps $45 million will be enough to get the company profitable again. I still think IBM and Intel would be better served to create their own distribution company or just buy an existing one, but I have to assume that they more about this stuff than I do.
But then I see posts on Slashdot from people who are buying games from Loki in an attempt to keep the company afloat. Whenever Slashdot posts an article about a failing Linux software company, dozens of people will leave messages that say "I bought Bartender Deluxe from BottomsUp Software, and I don't even drink. But I believe in supporting Linux software companies." Heck, if you're not interested in the product, why make the company spend money sending it to you? If you want to piss money down the drain, just send the company a donation. In the case of Loki games (see my August 17 entry), it's doubtful that any amount of money could save that company. Other Linux companies have similar problems--they're spending more on production than they can recoup in sales. Maybe they're trying to make it up in volume?
Wednesday, 29 August, 2001
Flipping the channels over the weekend, I found that AMC was playing the 1953 film War of the Worlds, based on H.G. Wells' book but taking place in the mid-20th rather than in the late 19th century. I remember seeing this movie in 3-D back in the early 80's, and liking it even then--despite the hokey glasses. The story is old hat to us now and was maybe even a little stale back then. I find the whole love-story-mixed-up-in-apocalyptic-events story line tiresome in anything, and in that regard this movie is a major offender. But it was a technical masterpiece at the time. Of the movie's $7 million (or was it $12 million) budget, over half was spent on special effects. The movie won an Academy Award for special effects. And the colors were so vivid.
The movie isn't without its flaws. We all laughed when in Independence Day, a computer virus written on an Apple Macintosh could somehow infect an alien computer system. I noticed the same kind of flaw in War of the Worlds. When the hero returns with one of the Martians' cameras, our scientists had no problem hooking it up to a projection television showing a blurred picture. "This," they say, "is how the Martians see us."
But the movie is a classic, flaws and all, and worth seeing if you get a chance.
Tuesday, 28 August, 2001
Yes, that is a toilet in the back of my truck. Sunday was rip out the bathroom day. I disassembled the entire back bathroom in yet another step of our remodeling project. Sink, cabinet, mirror, baseboards, toilet, and door all went with me to the RE-store at the local Habitat for Humanity. The RE-store accepts donations of building materials that they resell in order to raise money for their building projects. It's a worthy cause, and a much better place for my old building materials than the city dump. But the RE-store wouldn't take the toilet! It's one of the old 3.5 gallon-per-flush models. The 1992 Energy Policy and Conservation Act established a $2,500 fine for anyone who doesn't install low-flow toilets in a new or remodeled bath. Yes, you heard right, $2,500 fine if you replace your existing toilet with an old model. To make matters worse, the City of Austin came into Habitat one day and threatened to fine them or shut them down if they continued to sell the old models. Excuse the pun, but what kind of crap is that?
I can understand passing a law that encourages using new low-flow (1.6 gallons per flush) toilets, and perhaps even prohibiting the manufacture, import, and sale of new 3.5 gpf units. But to prohibit people from reusing their old toilets seems like a shitty thing to do. It's not environmentally friendly, either. There are very few places in the country that will accept a toilet for recycling (to be ground up and used as fill dirt or to create heat-resistant ceramic material for industrial use). So the toilets end up in our already overcrowded landfills. Now there's a good idea!
Anybody who's used one of the early model 1.6 gpf units is familiar with having to flush at least twice to send everything away (which reminds me of a military school joke: "Flush twice. It's a long way to the mess hall"). Anyway, 1.6 gallons times 2 flushes is...carry the one...3.2 gallons. Wow! Those new toilets are saving us about a quart of water each flush. If it's true that the later model low-flow units have solved most of multi-flush problems, then shouldn't the 1992 Act be amended to prohibit installation of the early model 1.6 gpf units? This law has also spawned a black market for the older toilets. $300 each? Hmmm...there are three bathrooms in this house, each with its own vintage toilet. On second thought, perhaps I should hang on to them just in case the new 1.6 gpf units I have my eye on don't work as expected.
Monday, 27 August, 2001
Those X-10 camera advertisements that pop under my Internet Explorer browser are the most annoying thing yet on the web. Spam is a bit of a nuisance, but it's pretty easy to ignore. These X-10 ads and other pop-up or pop-under gimmicks get on my nerves much more than a couple dozen daily emails.
A coworker pointed me to www.noads.org, where they have a link that will eliminate the X-10 ads for the next 10 years. Click on the Remove X10 Ad link near the bottom of the page. The site also provides some information about how marketing companies are using cookies to track your web usage, and how you can prevent that, or at lease reduce it.
Is the World Wide Web destined to become a war with users on one side pitted against advertising and marketing types who are trying to gather information about and push products at us? Of course, why would I think the Internet would be any different from the billboards, radio, and TV advertisements? Somebody has to pay for Yahoo's bandwidth and server space. I guess it's up to me to stop visiting Web sites that use those techniques that I find objectionable.
I think I'm going to turn off cookies for a while and see what happens as I browse. Or maybe I'll try one of those cookie controller programs that the guys over at No Ads talk about.
Sunday, 26 August, 2001
Saturday, 25 August, 2001
I have beer on the brain lately, even more than usual. I'm turning 40 in a couple of months, and have decided to throw a big party--40 hours long starting at 6:00 AM on Saturday and closing down at 10:00 PM on Sunday. For the party I'm making 40 gallons of homebrew. Since I have somewhat limited production capacity, I have had to brew the beer over a several-week period. As of today, I've brewed all but one of the beers. At the party I will have:
5 gallons of Mexican Amber similar to Negra Modelo
5 gallons of Crisp Rye--probably my favorite of all the beers I've brewed
5 gallons of Wheat Stout--something new that the guys at the brew store suggested
5 gallons of an Octoberfest/Marzen
5 gallons of Crystal Honey Ale--a lighter beer I use to experiment with different hops and spices
5 gallons of Saison--a Belgian style that I'll brew up next week.
7 gallons of a semi-dry mead
3 gallons of sweet mead
I've also brewed up a batch of Amber Bock that will accompany me to Dallas next month for a school reunion. If we don't drink it all (not likely, but stranger things have happened), the remaining bottles will be at the party.
I'm getting pretty good at this brewing thing. Haven't had a boil-over in months.
Wednesday, 22 August, 2001
Somebody at work pointed me to this article that describes a theory of how Earth's moon was created. It's an interesting theory, but I hope those guys have more than a computer model and some wild speculation to go on.
The article says that the moon is thought to have been much closer to Earth, and the Earth and the moon continue to get more distant from each other by several inches (centimeters) a year. The distance from Earth to moon is approximately 240,000 miles. If its been moving away from Earth at the rate of 1 inch per year for 4.5 billion years, that means its moved about 71,000 miles. I wonder what tides would have been like when the moon was only 170,000 miles away. Since the effects of gravity are inversely proportional to the square of the distance, the moons gravitational effects on Earth at that distance would be approximately double what they are today.
One other tidbit. The article implies that the moon moving away from the Earth is what causes the rotational period to slow. Does this mean that if the moon were to disappear, the Earths rotation would stop? I was under the impression that the slowing of the rotational period is at least partially an effect of the moons gravity, and as the moon moves away, its effects on the Earth's rotation would lessen. Was I wrong?
There's another article on this topichere.
Tuesday, 21 August, 2001
Back in November of last year (see November 12 entry) I was wondering why I couldn't get a combination PDA/mobile phone. I said that I'd pay $500 for one. Guess it's time to put my money where my mouth is. Sprint PCS recently released their Kyocera Model QCP 6035 phone/PDA with Palm OS. One of the guys at the office has one, and it looks pretty sweet. And at $399, it's well under the $500 I said I was willing to pay. I'm looking into it, and will report when I finally obtain one.
And now I have an HTML formatting question that I hope somebody can answer. If you're viewing this on a wide screen (like 1600 pixels), then the phone image at left probably overlaps the date line below. How do I stop that? If I use a table, then I don't get the text to wrap below the phone when the screen is narrower. Any ideas?
Monday, 20 August, 2001
The Free Software Foundation, led by Richard Stallman and represented by Bradley Kuhn, believe that all software should be "Free." Their stated position is that the product of a developer's work belongs to the community as a whole, and should be licensed by the GNU General Public License (GPL) in order to prevent evil corporations from taking the work and using it in a proprietary ("non-Free") program.
Members of the Open Source faction, led by nobody but represented here by Tim O'Reilly, believe that developers should have the freedom to release their work under whatever license works for them. Eric S. Raymond also weighs in on this one with some comments.
If you're interested in all the sordid details, start with Tim O'Reilly's My Definition of Freedom Zero, and follow the links from there.
I'll leave the detailed analysis to others. I just want to note that one of these groups of freedom lovers employs a coercive license to prevent certain uses of their software, advocates limiting programmers' salaries, and has suggested a "Software Tax" to be imposed on the purchase of new computers in order to fund a government agency that supports software development. It's all in theirvision document--read it for yourself. "Your software will be Free (under our definition). We will force it to be so."
Sunday, 19 August, 2001
Most of us take gravity for granted: stuff falls. In high school physics we learn about the universality of gravitation--all objects attract all others--but because gravity is such a weak force we can't readily see the gravitational effects between small objects. Or so I thought. I was cruising the Web the other day and ran across a very cool site called Formilab, on which I found a page titled Bending Spacetime in the Basement. The third paragraph explains the title.
This page has a reasonably good discussion of the gravitational force, and introduces an experiment that you can perform at home to demonstrate the gravitational attraction between two small objects. The author also poses an interesting question: could Archimedes have discovered the universal nature of gravitation 1,900 years before Newton published his Philosophi naturalis principia mathematica? After pointing out the information available to Archimedes at the time, the author states: "It seems plausible, then, given the knowledge at hand and a chain of inference which, in retrospect at least, appears straightforward, that Archimedes could have suspected the universality of gravitation." He then demonstrates how Archimedes might have proven such a theory using materials that were available to him. It's an interesting speculation: how would history have unfolded if Archimedes had done this?
Saturday, 18 August, 2001
Another issue of "Jim's Pet Peeves." Do people understand the difference between "all are not" and "not all are"? At the Garden Center today I was reading a little blurb about succulents, which said in part "All cacti are succulents, but all succulents are not cacti." Huh? I think they meant "...but not all succulents are cacti." And this in an educational brochure. I regularly see this mistake in print and hear it on radio broadcasts, and I wonder if the journalists (writers and editors) actually understand what they are saying.
The first time I tried to explain this difference to somebody, I choose as my example sentence the obvious falsehood "All lawyers are not crooks." Changing "all are not" to "not all are" results in the somewhat less suspect "Not all lawyers are crooks." Perhaps that wasn't such a good example after all.
When people say "all is not lost," are they really trying to say "not all is lost?"
Friday, 17 August, 2001
A friend of mine sent methis link to a story about Linux game publisher Loki Software's Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. This is unbelievable. Who in his right mind would work unpaid for 19 months and at the same time lend the company $100,000 via credit card? The employee (Colvin) certainly should be repaid, but one has to wonder what was going through his mind as he pulled out his credit card to help Loki meet payroll.
Employees of Loki are making noises about taking over the company, which I find very funny. Do you really think that a bunch of programmers who are dumb enough to work for a company that can't pay them, or accept a "loan" in lieu of payroll are smart enough to select a CEO who won't take advantage of them? If this is indicative of how Linux software companies are run, Windows software companies have nothing to worry about.
Thursday, 16 August, 2001
Wednesday, 15 August, 2001
Tuesday, 14 August, 2001
I wrote my first assembly language program 20 years ago, and up until about 5 years ago I was always doing something or another in assembly language. Having finished most of my other projects, I've started brushing up on my ASM skills again, starting with porting an old hex dump/patch program from 8086 DOS assembly language up to a 32-bit (386 or Pentium, I haven't yet decided) Windows console application. Once that's finished, I'll probably port the program to Linux as well.
Writing to the Windows API from assembly language is an odd experience. Traditionally, assembly language programs "talk to the hardware," or interface with the operating system at a low level. But the Windows API is a bunch of high-level procedure calls, and the operating system controls all of the hardware. I'm directly controlling the CPU, true, but everything else (video, keyboard, sound, I/O ports, etc.) is accessed through a high-level procedure call. It's an entirely different kind of assembly language programming. Interesting though, and very instructive.
Monday, 13 August, 2001
If you liked the game Civilization II, you might be interested inFreeciv--a Free Software knock-off of the game. According to the website: "Freeciv is a multiplayer strategy game, released under the GNU General Public License. It is generally comparable with Civilization II, published by Microprose." Linux and Windows versions are available, and since it's released under the GNU GPL, full source code is available too. I haven't tried it yet.
I wonder if they've solved the micro-management problems that drove me away from Civilization II. I suspect not. But since the source is available perhaps I could get in there and add some more intelligent automation. It's an interesting thought, and would be tempting if I had the time for it. By the time I finished, though, I'd probably be so sick of the game that I wouldn't want to play it.
Sunday, 12 August, 2001
Speaking of wind resistance (see August 10), I set out on my bike this morning with the intention of riding at least 50 miles. Heading south from my house, I faced a stiff (15 MPH or higher) wind. I was feeling OK, though, and kept on going. 35 miles from home, when I finally turned around, I realized that the wind had taken more energy that I had anticipated. 10 miles later, I was on the phone trying to find somebody to come rescue me. I finally reached Debra at work after I'd ridden another 5 miles or so, and she came to pick me up.
I should have paid attention at the 25 mile mark when I started getting tired climbing a small hill. Had I turned around and headed home at that point, I would have had a good workout rather than suffering from mild dehydration and some serious muscle cramps. Moral: wind is a serious energy drain. I'd made that ride before with little trouble, and I'm in better shape now than I was then. But the last time there wasn't any wind.
Saturday, 11 August, 2001
Friday, 10 August, 2001
Somebody at work a while back postulated that it was possible to design a human powered vehicle in which a person could, with moderate effort, achieve and maintain 60 MPH. It's a nice dream, until you sit down and do the math. You can imagine that a lot of people have spent considerable time crunching these particular numbers. It didn't take me long to find the International Human Powered Vehicle Association on the Internet. Using the spreadsheets from their tools page, I came up with some representative numbers.
The primary impediments to motion are rolling friction and air resistance, so I selected the vehicle that has the least air resistance (a streamlined recumbent bicycle), and a tire with very low coefficient of rolling friction (0.002). Finally, I assumed that the combined weight of rider and vehicle is 200 pounds. To maintain a speed of 60 MPH with that combination would require a sustained power output of 0.825 HP. Fine. But even elite athletes (think Lance Armstrong) can achieve a sustained power output of only 0.4 horsepower (about 300 watts) for long periods. A reasonably fit person can expect to maintain between 0.1 and 0.15 HP for a 4-hour period. Obviously, we can't expect human powered vehicles to travel at 60 MPH.
The interesting thing is that the power requirement doesn't increase linearly with weight. If you double the weight of the bike and riders to 400 pounds (say, a dual bicycle with two people pedaling), the required output power only increases to 0.892 HP. Two elite athletes working together could come very close to a sustained 60 MPH.
If you reduce the speed requirement to 30 MPH for a single-person vehicle, you reduce the power requirement to 0.13 HP--something that a reasonably fit person could achieve with some effort. You'd want a shower when you got to where you were going, though. And that's on flat ground with no wind. If you add a 10 MPH wind and a 1% grade, you triple the power requirement. Ouch. Before you argue that better gearing would solve the problem, remember that gears don't increase power, but rather allow you to apply it more efficiently.
So how to overcome friction and air resistance? Overcoming friction requires better materials. Certainly there are less resistive materials than rubber, but using them would reduce braking and cornering ability, so they're probably not very practical. Air resistance is more complicated, but in general is a function of the area exposed to the wind. A faired, streamlined recumbent bicycle has an effective area of about of a square foot. It's hard to imagine that you could build a modern sized vehicle that has an effective area less than that.
Friction and air resistance are limiting factors for all types of vehicles. We don't worry too much about it in our gasoline powered cars simply because we literally have horsepower to burn. Solar powered vehicles, though, have problems similar to human powered vehicles: there's not enough solar energy hitting a typical car--even if it could be converted 100% efficiently--to propel the car at 60 MPH. Solar and human power may be good alternatives for short or slow trips, but we still need a separate energy source for speed or heavy loads. I'm not saying that we need to stick to burning fossil fuels, but we need something. Gasoline-electric hybrid cars are a step in the right direction for personal transport. For larger transport (ships) and local power plants, pebble bed nuclear reactors look promising.
Thursday, 09 August, 2001
One of our dogs sniffed out a candy bar that Debra had in her purse on the floor. I came in from working out in the yard and found the contents of Debra's purse strewn out on the floor. We later found the candy bar wrapper (empty) out in the back yard along with Debra's checkbook. Puzzling why the dog carried the checkbook away.
I've often wondered what women carry in their purses. Having cleaned up after the dog's mischief, I know the answer. My only question now is "Why?"
Tuesday, 07 August, 2001
Monday, 06 August, 2001
I finally made it to Boston about 9:30 this evening. It was touch and go there for a while in Houston while we waited on the taxiway for thunderstorms to clear the area. For a while I thought it was going to be a repeat of last week's aborted trip. At any rate, after renting a car and negotiating the maze of streets, tunnels, construction detours, and poorly-signed freeways and turnpikes in the Boston area, it was 11:00 by the time I got to my hotel in Natick, MA. Natick isn't much, but the Hampton Inn there is a decent hotel. The best part of the hotel is the restaurant and bar: Owen O'Leary's. The food is about what you'd expect in a hotel restaurant, but the bar also serves handcrafted beers that are brewed on the premises. I had a Golden Ale that was very good: coppery color, very hoppy, somewhat fruity, and smooth. After eight hours in airports and airplanes, it was a very welcome surprise.
I try to find brew pubs wherever I travel. On my trip to Minneapolis (see July 8), I discovered the Rock Bottom Brewery, which had about a dozen handcrafted beers on the menu. They offer a sampler special: for one dollar you get a taste (a shot glass full) of each of their beers. Their darker beers were good, although they had a little too much chocolate malt for my taste. But their Kolsch was excellent, as were their other beers. Rock Bottom is apparently a national chain, with 23 restaurants across the country. I'll make a point to visit them whenever I land in one of their cities.
Friday, 03 August, 2001
Bicyclists live in fear of cars. Whenever we're on the road, we're paying very close attention to the cars around us, and we listen very carefully for car sounds behind us. Even riding on a wide shoulder, we're vulnerable. People in cars don't see bicyclists (although I don't understand how that's possible), they ignore us, or they try to bully us off the road. A car is much larger and much faster than a bicycle, and drivers have little patience--they won't wait five seconds for us to clear an intersection or cross an exit lane. Often when one driver decides to wait for a cyclist to cross a lane, some other idiot will zoom past and cut the cyclist off. Why are drivers in such a hurry?
The other thing drivers do is honk their horns. I don't know if they're honking in greeting or purposely trying to scare me, but every time I hear a horn honk behind me I have an almost irresistible urge to dive off the road. Nothing scares a cyclist like hearing a horn honked behind him, so don't do it. If you want to get a cyclist's attention, honk and wave after you've passed him.
Thursday, 02 August, 2001
Why do businesses (mostly restaurants) insist on keeping one of their doors permanently locked? If there are double doors leading into a restaurant, chances are that the left-hand door is locked. Why? Is it really that difficult to release the latches on the second door after unlocking the first? Are restaurant managers afraid that too many people will come in at once? Or do they see it as a source of amusement ("Watch this. He'll try to go out the locked door")? It's not like people leaving the restaurant like having to wait inside behind a locked door while people file in. Worse, this looks like a safety hazard. In a fire, people will run towards the doors and the first person to arrive at the locked door will be crushed by the rest of the crowd trying to get out.
I think I'll start pointing this out to the owners and managers whenever I find a restaurant with one of those locked doors. Either that or I'll just start unlocking the door whenever I can.
Wednesday, 01 August, 2001
I found the Java version difficult to play because it kept missing keystrokes. It did bring back memories of the old arcade game that I put way too many quarters into back in the late 1970's. That game was called Space Wars, by a company called Cinematronics (not to be confused with the other Cinematronics, my former employer and creator of the Space Cadet Pinball game that Microsoft shipped with the Windows 95 Plus Pack and now ships with Windows 2000).