Tuesday, 30 July, 2002

TrojanHunter

I got an email today with the subject "TrojanHunter", and almost deleted it because I figured it was some kind of porn site come-on.  It turns out, though, that the person was asking where to find information about a product called TrojanHunter from, get this, Mischel Internet Security.  The owner, apparently one Magnus Mischel, has an intriguing product, and some interesting security papers on his web site.  The papers are well worth a look.  I guess I should get in touch with him and dig out the old genealogy records to see how we're related.

Monday, 29 July, 2002

Charlie Finds a Home

Charlie the somewhat suspect pit bull sure knows how to pick a sucker.  After several visits to the vet, and almost two weeks of looking to find him a home, we decided to keep him.  I spent most of Saturday and Sunday repairing fences so we can keep him outside while we're gone.  Staying inside, he was very quickly destroying things.  A 55 lb puppy can do an amazing amount of damage to wood cabinets and doors in quite short order.  A side benefit of keeping him outside is that he loves chasing the deer away.  And now that I've patched the holes in the fence, the chances of him catching a fawn are minimal.

Since we don't know exactly how old he is, we can't quite celebrate a birthday.  So July 14, in addition to being Bastille Day in France, is now in our household Found Dog Day.

The scabs and bald patches, by the way, are the result of the demodectic mange, for which he is being treated.  This picture was taken about a week ago, and he looks better there than he did when we found him.  Today the scabs are almost all gone, and the hair is growing back in the bald spots.  Next thing on the list:  obedience classes.

Saturday, 27 July, 2002

Tour de France:  Effortless?

You all probably have read or seen by now that Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France again this year.  Descriptions of his victory go from "pre-ordained" to "effortless", without mentioning that he, his team, and the rest of the 153 riders who finished the Tour this year rode 2,035 miles in three weeks at an average speed of close to 25 miles per hour.  Believe me, there's nothing "effortless" about that, nor about the 11 months of training that went into preparing for the race.  Perhaps the few clips that ESPN or CBS Sports showed made it look easy, but that's a different matter entirely.  What those clips don't show are the four or five hours leading up to the finish, where the team is working hard to deliver the leader to the final sprint.  Those guys are working while the leader takes it comparatively easy in the middle of the pack.  Armstrong is the first to say that he couldn't have done it without the support of his team, and every cycling commentator has mentioned that the U.S. Postal Service team is by far the strongest team fielded in the last 50 years of the Tour.  And, no, I'm not saying that any top-ranked cyclist with that team could have defeated Lance Armstrong.

The nice thing about the Tour, the only sporting event I care much about, is that it only lasts three weeks out of the year.  Now I can go back to being oblivious about professional sports until next July.

Friday, 26 July, 2002

Ranting on the Rant

A couple of additional points about Ron Borges' rant (see Thursday's entry).  First, why is it that journalists seem to have an irresistible urge to get a rise out of their audiences?  Borges had to know that he would get an overwhelmingly negative reaction to his article.  Of those who actually agree with his rant, the few who actually are literate probably don't have Internet access, and in any case likely are disinclined to put down their beers long enough to write a letter in support.  Which brings me to my second point.  A large number of Lance Armstrong fans take themselves and professional cycling way too seriously.  It's painfully obvious that the piece is a rant, and it's pretty darned funny.  Funnier, though, are thecomments about the article from those Lance Armstrong fans who didn't understand that the piece was meant as humor and designed to bait the audience.  Life is endlessly amusing.

Wednesday, 24 July, 2002

Admiring a Rant

MSNBC ran a beautifully written rant by Ron Borges titled Great feat, but not a great athlete.  I don't agree with most of what he says, and it's pretty obvious to me that he doesn't either.  His article catches the essence of our culture's beer-swilling, violence-loving sports fans who're fixated on ball sports.  Of course anybody who's into basketball, football, or hockey will consider cycling a "fringe sport."  These are the same folks who think watching a bunch of cars race 200 times around a track is exciting, although I believe they're all secretly hoping to see a spectacular crash.  They probably don't know (or even care, for that matter) that cycling is the national sport of France, and second in popularity only to soccer ("football") in most of Europe.  But I've long since stopped trying to explain the joys of cycling to couch potatoes.  Let them drink beer, yell, and give each other high fives as they watch another overweight idiot with a criminal record cross the goal line.  I'll go riding.

Saturday, 20 July, 2002

Everybody Does Have a Cell Phone

I knew that this cell phone thing had gotten out hand, but I didn't realize just how far.  When people say "everybody has a cell phone," they're not exaggerating by much.  The most recent reports show that there are 137 million mobile phone subscribers in the United States.  Current U.S. population is approximately 280 million.  So approximately 49% of the entire population have mobile phones.  That, to me, is an astonishing figure.

Mobile phones have long since stopped being a toy just for the rich or upper middle class.  Just walk into your local Sprint phone store and you'll see most income groups represented.  When I was in McDonald's the other day during lunch, many of the employees, and the high school students that made up most of the clientele had mobile phones.  In a very real sense, "everybody" does have a cell phone.

What I want to know is how we got along so well without the damned things for so many years.

Friday, 19 July, 2002

The Role of the Team in Bicycling

If you have any doubt about bicycling being a team sport, view tapes of today's and yesterday's Tour de France stages.  On both days, Lance Armstrong's U.S. Postal Service team did a perfect job ushering him from the start line to the base of the final climb, where he was then able to achieve decisive stage victories; beating his nearest rival by more than a minute each day.  Armstrong won both stages, but he is quick to point out that his team (and especially member Roberto Heras) made it possible.

The most obvious way the team helps is by riding in front of the team leader to block the wind.  By drafting (riding in other cyclists' slipstream), the team leader reduces his workload by up to 40% on a calm day.  The savings on a windy day is even more.  The trick is to deliver the team leader and preferably one or two other team members (climbing specialists, typically) to the base of the final climb with enough energy left over to beat the other team leaders to the finish.  The remaining team members help set the pace up the hill, and chase down any other teams' riders who might attempt to break away.  The attack and counter-attack tactics are difficult to explain, but plainly evident if you watch one or two races.

Last year I said that I'd rather watch a golf tournament than a long bicycle road race.  After having listened to the stages on webcast and seen some television coverage, I'll retract that statement.  Bicycle racing is way more interesting than golf.

I was pleasantly surprised yesterday when I checked into my hotel here in Columbus.  They offer broadband Internet access.  At $10.00 per 24-hour period, I wouldn't want to spend too many days here, but this is going to be very useful for three nights.  Now rather than paying $10.00 for an in-room movie, I can get some work done.  DSL Reports tells me I have 1,475 Kbps up and down.  That's better than what I get at home with my cable modem, and better than what I usually get at work, having to share a T1 line with the rest of the office.  The service is offered throughGuest-Tek, which offers the service in many hotels in the U.S. and Canada.

This type of service is becoming more common, with new hotels being wired for broadband access.  Some older hotels are offering wireless 802.11b connections.  I understand that some hotels are even offering the service as a "free" incentive.  I just might start liking travel with this laptop.

Monday, 15 July, 2002

Tour de France Update

Today was the ninth stage of the Tour de France—a 52 km individual time trial.  Before today's stage, defending champion Lance Armstrong was in 8th place overall, 34 seconds behind the leader; Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano of Spain.  Today was the end of the flat, fast part of the Tour.  Tomorrow is a rest day, and Wednesday is what they call a transitional stage—147 km of lightly rolling terrain heading up into the Pyrenees.  Up to today, there were 11 riders within one minute of the overall leader.  At the end of today's stage, there is only one:  Armstrong trails the leader by 26 seconds.  Expect the field to begin spreading out even more on Thursday, when the tour hits the mountains, separating the sprinters and classics riders from the true all-round cyclists.  These guys are perhaps the best conditioned athletes in the world.  Watching them ride is an inspiration.  I sure hope I can get Tour coverage while I'm away on business this week.

Sunday, 14 July, 2002

Charlie

Charlie (every dog needs a name) is a young (somewhere between 9 and 18 months, as best as the vet can tell) pit bull terrier (probably a mix) who showed up in the backyard today while I was mowing the lawn.  He was hungry and thirsty, and it was obvious that he hadn't eaten much for days.  We've taken him to the vet to have him checked out and cleaned up, but we're not planning on keeping him.  He's a very sweet dog who gets along well with people, cats, and other dogs, but Debra and I just can't handle another pet right now.  Having so far failed to find the owners (driving the neighborhoods and searching the papers for lost dogs), we're looking to find him a good home.  Placing a pit bull is difficult, though, because a few bad actors who raise the dogs to be mean have given the breed a bad reputation.  Fortunately,Pit Bull Rescue Central and other similar web sites contain a wealth of information, and everybody we've talked to or contacted via email has been extremely helpful.  With luck, and with the help of others who care, we'll find a home for Charlie.

Friday, 12 July, 2002

Pictures of the Flood

You probably saw pictures of the Central Texas flooding last week.  We don't have that problem up here in Round Rock, although the water will make some low crossings impassable, and there's always the danger of flash floods.  The water does rise, though, to an alarming extent.  I took the picture on the left (click for larger view) last Friday after we'd received about 10 inches of rain in three or four days.  The picture on the right I took this morning.  The pictures are from slightly different angles, but I think you get the idea—the tree in the center of the picture is the same.  On the left, that tree is standing in at least six feet of water.  On the right, you can see that the tree is on the bank at least three feet above the level of the creek.  That's an astonishing amount of water to come down so quickly.

Wednesday, 10 July, 2002

Arming Pilots Against Terrorism

The U.S. House of Representatives today passed, by a vote of 310-113, the Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act (H.R. 4635), that allows pilots of commercial aircraft to carry guns.  This is an extremely bad idea, for a couple of reasons.  First, now potential hijackers don't have to worry about smuggling guns on the airplanes.  Instead, all they have to do is wrest a gun from somebody who has his hands full flying an airplane.  If that's not enough reason to scrap this bill, consider that pilots are not police officers.  Yes, we have air marshals flying with weapons, but they are law enforcement officers who are trained for the situation.  Sure, the bill mentions training the pilots, but there's no way a few day-long classes are going to give a pilot the training he needs in order to use that gun effectively in a hijacking situation.  The pilots are behind a locked door, where they damned well better stay, considering the potential consequences of an unauthorized person obtaining entry to the cockpit.  I certainly wouldn't want them opening the cockpit door when a hijacker is lying in wait outside.  The cockpit doors are supposedly strengthened now, to prevent unauthorized entry.  Most likely, a determined individual could still get in, but I suspect that the passengers would have subdued that person long before he could threaten the pilots' safety.

On the airplane isn't the only place to worry.  No.  If pilots are allowed to carry guns, that means that there will be more guns in the airport terminals, with substantially more risk of one falling into the wrong hands.  It's a frightening thought.  I can think of no scenario in which it would be beneficial for pilots of commercial aircraft to be armed.  And I can come up with dozens of scenarios in which it would be a very, very bad idea.

What I find really sad is that our Representatives really aren't so stupid as to believe that arming pilots is "A Good Thing."  No, it's an election year and this is just one more strategy to garner votes:  "I voted for arming our pilots against terrorism!"  This bill, like just about every other bill that has sprung from the September 11 tragedy, is simply Congress' way of assuring the American people that "something is being done."  Happily, it's likely that the Senate will kill the bill.  Failing that, it falls to the President to stop this madness, although doing so would be very expensive politically.  I wonder if he has the guts to do it.

Sunday, 07 July, 2002

Converting Address Book

I finally wrote the program to convert my Outlook address book to the format for PocoMail (see my July 2 entry).  It only took an hour or so to modify an old Delphi program that I used to do some spelunking in my Outlook mailbox a while back.  That was the easy part.  The more difficult task will be getting the mail messages (about 75 megabytes worth) out of Outlook and into the mbox format that PocoMail uses.  I'm of two minds about that mbox format.  Although I'm glad that PocoMail's creators decided to go with a standard mail file format, I'm disappointed that it had to be mbox.  But then, there probably isn't another format that's even close to as widely supported.  The only two things mbox has going for it are its wide support and being a text-only format.  The format is somewhat difficult to parse, and very difficult to create reliably, taking into account all of the special processing rules required for storing textual information in a text-only format.  They really should have allowed for control characters to signify the end of a message.  It's going to be an interesting exercise, getting all of these messages over.  I'll update my progress here when I spend a little more time on it.

Saturday, 06 July, 2002

Tour de France

The Tour de France started today, with the Prologue—a 7 km individual time trial in Luxembourg.  Lance Armstrong, who is favored to win this year's Tour for the fourth consecutive time, won today's stage with a time of 9:08.  That works out to an average speed of 46 km/hr, or about 28.5 mph.  That's a respectable pace on a flat course, and nothing short of amazing considering the course profile.  The first 3 km was downhill with lots of twists and turns, and the last 2.5 or 3 km was up a respectable hill.  The tour continues tomorrow with a 192 km stage that contains some small but difficult hills, and an uphill finish.

If you're interested in Tour coverage, probably the best place to start is Lance Armstrong's site.  They have their own coverage, and links to all the major TdF and cycling news sites.  The official Tdf site is www.letour.com.  They have coverage in French, German, English, and Spanish.  They feature stage profiles, individual and team standings, and 5-minute (approximate) updates during the stages.  VeloNews has live coverage with an automatic 90-second update at http://www.velonews.com/tour2002/liveupdates_index.html.  Click on the "Live Coverage" icon to open the window.  Finally, if you get the Outdoor Life Network (OLN) on cable, you can see live Tour coverage every day from 9:30 am until 11:30 am Eastern.  They re-air the live coverage from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm Eastern, and also have a 2-hour commentary and analysis from 9:00 pm to 11:00 pm.  See their full schedule.  If, like me, you don't get OLN, you can hear the commentary live via webcast on theirListen Live site.  CBS has recap coverage on Sunday July 14 from 5:00 to 6:00 pm Eastern, and on Sunday July 21 and July 28 from 2:00 to 3:00 pm Eastern.  Cycling, unfortunately, still isn't a real big thing here in the U.S., so major network television coverage is pretty limited.

Friday, 05 July, 2002

Uranium Glass

Antiques are big business here in central Texas, as are pawn shops.  I don't recall ever seeing anything like the Antique Mall before I moved here.  Certainly not in Phoenix or Fresno, where I lived previously.  The Antique Mall (and similar places, of which there are dozens around here) is a very large strip mall space wherein vendors rent small spaces (10 by 10, for example) to sell their wares.  It's not strictly antiques, mind you.  More like a permanent flea market, but with a focus on antiques.  The vendors aren't always there (on the contrary, usually aren't there), but you can always purchase because there's a central cashier and the vendor's space number is on a sticker attached to each item.  Debra and I wander these places periodically, just to be doing something, mostly, but every once in a while we'll find something interesting.  I collect old bottle openers, for example, and I find some pretty neat specimens at these places.  I'm kind of choosy about what I add to my collection, though, so it's not always a successful hunt.

The second booth I walked into today had this amazing display of uranium glass under a black light. (It's the best picture I could get.  Any closer, and the flash made a terrible reflection on the glass case).  What surprised me most about uranium glass (other than I had never heard of it) was that the EPA, AEC, FDA, and all the other government agencies haven't banned its manufacture, sale, and possession.  Not that it's harmful or anything.  Although the radiation will register on a Geiger counter, we're talking very low levels.  I'd suspect you'd get higher readings from the granite blocks making up the U.S. Capital building.  Fascinating stuff, this uranium glass.  I wanted to buy a couple of pieces, but the stuff's absurdly expensive.  A simple cup cost more than $200.00.  I'd have done it for $20, just for the novelty.  But $200 is way over my limit for "cool stuff."

Thursday, 04 July, 2002

Bird Hits Window

We have these large windows on the north side of the house that apparently reflect enough of the sky and the overhanging oak tree to fool the occasional bird into trying to fly through them.  This seems to happen much more often if we open the blinds on the inside.  We had another victim today, right after we got back from the movie (Men In Black II—go see it if you liked the original), and Debra went outside to check on it.  It was stunned, but strong enough to sit on Debra's hand.  She held it for five minutes or so, until it took off and sat in the oak tree for a while.  We came out to check on it about 15 minutes later, and it was gone.  Hopefully none the worse for its experience.  I guess we should hang some crystals or other bird deterrent from the windows in order to prevent future episodes.

I got a pretty good close up of the bird.  If you can identify the species, please let me know.

Update 07/06:  A helpful reader identified the species for me.  It's a Yellow-billed Cuckoo.  He also provided a number of links, among them the USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter entry.  You just gotta love the Internet.  I posted this entry on Friday evening.  Saturday afternoon I had a message identifying the bird.  Ain't technology wonderful?

Wednesday, 03 July, 2002

Creative PC-CAM 300

I went out and bought a new digital camera today:  the Creative PC-CAM 300.  Why?  Because I wanted a camera that I could take almost anywhere and not worry too much about damaging or losing it.  The Canon is a nice camera, but too darned expensive to take mountain biking or on some of my other excursions.  The new camera has a couple of other nice features.  First, since it doesn't have an LCD, its batteries will last much longer than the Canon's little battery that burns out in a couple of hours.  The new camera also will record video (only about 75 seconds), and voice (about 30 minutes), and doubles as a web cam.  It's the last that kind of intrigues me.  With Yahoo Messenger (or any of the other similar services), you have the ability to do video conferencing.  Sure, there's a bit of delay in the voice and video, but for most things that's just fine.

I had a little trouble installing the camera, though.  I originally plugged it into one of the USB ports on my keyboard, but the computer wouldn't recognize it.  After uninstalling and reinstalling the software (to no avail), I finally checked Creative's web site, and saw a note there about some devices requiring connection directly to the USB controller.  I plugged the device into the USB port at the back of the computer, and things worked just fine.

The thing comes with a whole bunch of software, most of which I haven't installed.  The Creative PC-CAM Center, though, is a surprisingly good piece of software.  It's not fancy or anything, but it has an attractive and very intuitive user interface, without all the bells and whistles that always seem to confuse users and make the programs unstable.  This is quite different from most hardware manufactures, whose software usually sucks like an Electrolux (the software that came with the Canon digital camera being a case in point).  I hear people bad mouth Creative from time to time, but I've been using their products for over ten years (since I got my first Sound Blaster and CD-ROM), and I've always been pleased.  Perhaps they're not the latest and greatest things in technology, but they're always solid and reliable performers.  I'll take solid and reliable over bells and whistles every time.

Tuesday, 02 July, 2002

PocoMail

I finally got annoyed enough with Microsoft Outlook to install PocoMail.  I've only had it installed for a couple of days, but already I know that I'm going to switch to it from Outlook.  It's fast, for one thing.  Where Outlook would take several seconds to download each message, PocoMail grabs them all lickety-split.  And I can see the full message headers without having to jump through the hoops that Outlook would make me jump through.  Perhaps best of all, Poco stores the messages in flat text files (one file per mail folder) rather than the compressed and encrypted format that Outlook uses.  One thing that always ticked me off about Outlook was that I couldn't see the message in the exact form that it was sent.  With Poco, I can peek into the .mbx file and see exactly what was received from the POP server.  This is a very handy feature when you're experimenting with programs that compose and send email messages.

I still have to convert my address book and my old mail messages.  Converting the address book shouldn't be too hard (export from Outlook to comma-separated values, and import into Poco), but the old mail messages are going to be difficult.  Outlook does have a mail message export to text file, but it's pretty ugly.  I'll probably have to dust off my old MAPI experimental programs for this one.  I don't necessarily need my entire 100 megabyte message database available in PocoMail, but I need it in some kind of readable format.  There's no way I'm going to archive the Outlook format. 

So far, Poco is a definite thumbs-up.  Barring any unforeseen difficulties, I'll be registering it ($30) this week.  Highly recommended.

I'm forever annoyed by the anti-Microsoft crowd's endless whining.  And I'm continually amused by their propensity to trot out the MS Office Clippy paperclip in an attempt to make Microsoft look stupid or incompetent.  Clippy was annoying, true, and not very helpful.  And easy to eliminate permanently.  Bringing up the issue just makes the Microsoft bashers look stupid.

In my January 1 entry I mentioned Godwin's Law.  I'd like to propose that a similar "law" be enacted regarding the mention of Clippy.  The Microsoft bashers have beat Clippy to death, and now they're just flogging a moldy old corpse screaming "kill it, kill it" like a bunch of little kids gone wild on a desert island.  Leave the poor dead tortured paperclip alone and find something intelligent to complain about.