THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 281 October 27 - November 2, 2003
Highlights this week:
This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the monthly COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 4,000 - 7,000 words, depending. (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here.
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October 27, 2003
About to go see Gates speak.
The Wireless net wasn't working, and until 4 PM the Ethernet connections didn't work either. The net was up but the DHCP servers weren't: either they were out of IP addresses, or the servers had crashed. Either way nothing worked.
It was so bad that some demos crashed because .NET needs Internet connected resources through a VPN to compile the code -- and the net would crash in the middle of a demo, which crashed the demo. This may be the fault of the Convention Center which isn't used to really high tech conventions, and thus didn't expect that of 7500 people, nearly all would be using the Net...
Meanwhile they don't know the official attendance. I offered to write a small app using XML and Avalon that would go into their data base and find out. Fortunately they declined the offer...
And I stubbornly kept trying to access the Net.
With a Mac everything is either very simple or impossible, and you give up quickly if things don't work. Windows, alas, and Linux as well, encourage you to try one more thing; although you ought to know better. Certainly I ought to know better.
Gates was enthusiastic, as was Allchin. Allchin said WiFi rather than "wiffy" this time, and in fact his demos were pretty good. I am impressed with what they are putting into Longhorn.
Allchin said they are giving out beta code, and they have never given out code this early in the process. That's code for saying that Longhorn is very late. Peter Coffee (PC Week now eWeek) points out that NT5 (on to Cairo!) was to have unified data storage; but it wasn't in there. Now it's coming for Longhorn.
Meanwhile, IBM makes more in selling services for Windows 2003 Server than Microsoft makes on each copy they sell.
Intermittent connectivity: enough to drive you mad.
More later. Reception in the Expo Room tonight.
I have been here all day. My house isn't threatened, and neither is Niven's. Beyond that I can't say about the fires.
The net is dead again at 1700. It's probably the Convention Center but nothing will work again. The local connection works but there is no IP Address. No DHCP Server working. How droll.
Today Microsoft demonstrated the first Identity Theft API. I wish I had thought of that, but it's Peter Coffee's line. He also says analog is reality, bits are a lie... under all this stuff is watts, volts and amps. The discussion is about the messiness of the big displays in the Microsoft demonstrations...
250 unknown devices appear on the net. Captain a Romulan Warbird decloaking off the port bow! And the net is dead again. Wireless doesn't work. We can understand that. But Ethernet doesn't work either.
All the encryption systems are broken, phones are cloned. And it continues.
Home. Everything here works. I am sure the problem isn't Microsoft but the LA Convention Center, which was just overwhelmed by the bandwidth demands. So it goes.
The news from the Chatsworth area is good: no houses burned, so Niven's place is all right. There was an evacuation of his area.
If you sent me mail, don't expect an answer tonight.
A story about an al-Qaeda operative that said there were plans to set fires in the West.
That's all we need....
|This week:||Tuesday, October
Niven has made it back to his house. It's intact. Everything around them is black and burned, and the house smells of smoke, but it's intact.
Out to the east, Tim Powers place is safe. The fires were along the northern rim of Los Angeles and San Bernardino.
In Texas they perp-walked Dr. Butler into court in chains and jumpsuit. As a result at least 20 top tropical disease scientists have destroyed all their samples and abandoned all research into diseases that might have some bio-war uses. I expect a lot of others to do the same.
This may be a greater triumph for the FBI than Waco. We can all feel so much safer now.
The old saw about things being either very easy or simply impossible on the Mac is no longer valid, sir.
There's nothing meaningful one can name which is impossible on the Mac, anymore, since they rewrote the OS (OS/X) atop the FreeBSD *NIX variant.
I issue an open challenge to any of your readers to come up with -one significant task- which is impossible to accomplish using a Mac, but which can be done under Windows or Linux.
Which I suspect is more or less true. On the other hand, many years ago I said I didn't really want to have to learn to grep: UNIX was designed to be obscure, a full employment act for Gurus. So it may still be true for most of us that it's either easy or impossible, with the side note that you can get a wizard to do the impossible...
I'll be getting a 15" Mac pretty soon now. Thanks to all who subscribed or renewed subscriptions for making that possible.
At PDC one amusing incident: Gates showed a goshwow film as usual. Part of it was a retrospect back to the days of the Altair. As part of it, there was a news item: picture of Gates ten years ago with a voiceover: And Bill Gates recognized that the world was going to the Internet. Shift to another shot of Gates, saying, "Especially after I found out everyone was already there."
Some of us remember those heady days, when the Netscape people were saying they'd put Microsoft out of business by building a web browser that would also be an operating system.
And Gates early on declared war on the web browser, intending to make it part of the OS. That continues...
Illegal immigration at heart of California's woes?
Georgie Anne Geyer
GG is one of the sharpest people I know. Roberta and I spent several days with her in Moscow some years ago. She's always worth listening to.
In another discussion group we have been talking about The Decline of the West: is Western Civilization merely a blip in history.
Being under the weather and busy with PDC I merely said "'Liberalism is a philosophy of consolation for the West as it commits suicide' (James Burnham). Remember this useful phrase. You will find you need it again and again."
Someone else posted this quote from Max Weber:
"It is horrible to think that the world could one day be filled with nothing but those little cogs, little men clinging to little jobs and striving toward bigger ones--a state of affairs which is to be seen once more, as in the Egyptian records, playing an ever increasing part in the spirit of our present administrative systems, and especially of its offspring, the students."
"This passion for bureaucracy...is enough to drive one to despair. It is as if in politics. . . we were to deliberately to become men who need "order" and nothing but order, become nervous and cowardly if for one moment this order wavers, and helpless if they are torn away from their total incorporation in it."
"That the world should know no men but these: it is in such an evolution that we are already caught up, and the great question is, therefore, not how we can promote and hasten it, but what can we oppose to this machinery in order to keep a portion of mankind free from this parceling-out of the soul, from this supreme mastery of the bureaucratic way of life."
"No one knows who will live in this cage in the future, or whether at the end of this tremendous development entirely new prophets will arise, or there will be a great rebirth of old ideas and ideals or, if neither, mechanized petrification embellished with a sort of convulsive self-importance. For of the last stage of this cultural development, it might well be truly said:
'Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has obtained a level of civilization never before achieved"
Elsewhere it has been said that as the Concorde goes, so go we. And I have been known to say that I knew as a child I would live to see the first man on the Moon. I didn't know I would live to see the last one.
Possony and I were working on Strategy of Progress when he had the stroke that ended his professional life. Perhaps I ought to dig out the old notes and see if I can salvage anything.
Meanwhile, the following is not for the faint of heart. Warning: the story at the end of this link will horrify you. If it doesn't I don't think I want you as a reader:
The Most Unconventional Weapon By DANIEL
BERGNER NY Times Published: October 26, 2003 http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/26/magazine/26
Hywell Waters for The New York Times Kakule Muzekiana tells of being forced to participate in cannibalizing his assistant. Amuzati Ndjoki says he witnessed rebel soldiers devouring his family.
In this year of Grace, 2003.
Off to PDC in a couple of minutes. Will post here when I can. Mail is up including SOLAR STORM.
2300: Home again. Solar storm over, we seem to have survived. Tomorrow at PDC is XP SP2, and the Security discussion panel. Both important and they start at 0 dark 30.
October 30, 2003
The Microsoft PDC is over. The entire day was spent on security, and I'll have a lot to say about it in the column. Brian Livingston's comment was "I always thought Windows was insecure, but after this morning I am terrified."
I came away with a somewhat different view, which will go in the column. I do think the day confirmed what I have said for years, we took a wrong turn when we adopted C and C++ as system programming languages rather than Pascal / Modula 2. As far as I can see, the remedy to many of the security vulnerabilities is to revert to languages with strong typing, and range checking and type checking at compile time. They are planning to do that Real Soon Now for later versions of Windows.
C will compile anything: it's an assembler, not a language. It's possible to write secure code in C, I suppose, but I am not sure anyone has done it, and to do it you have to simulate the compiler in your head as you write code. I'd rather let the compiler catch errors.
Strong typing, type checking, and range checking would certainly have eliminated most and probably all the buffer overflow vulnerabilities.
Ah well. I said all this 20 years ago.
We are getting control of the fires. Hurrah.
Most of the world knew him as Hal Clement. His friends knew him as Harry. He was a good man and a good American, as well as a damned good writer.
I last saw him about a month ago. Like most SF writer colleagues I had known him many years, but we saw each other perhaps twice a year and sometimes not that often. We weren't close friends, but we were good friends. Goodbye, Harry.
October 31, 2003 All Hallows Eve
Coming up for air. We took a walk this morning, coughing and gasping as we recover from this persistent upper respiratory infecti0n; the air was clear, and the weather nice, and Sable is very happy that it's Fall and cool.
The PDC is over. There will be a lot in the column about it, and some of the implications. Longhorn will be out in 2006; that's quite a way from now. Meanwhile there will be service packs, particularly a security SP 2 for Windows XP; that should be early 2004, and will fix a number of problems including most buffer overflow attacks, and many SQL Insertion attacks. It won't add much in the way of features, but over time Microsoft is building a bunch of stuff into Visual Studio.NET and its support system.
All told it was a useful if exhausting week.
Up the Empire!
A small degree of sanity:
On October 28, 2003, the Librarian of Congress, on the recommendation of the Register of Copyrights, announced the classes of works subject to the exemption from the prohibition against circumvention of technological measures that control access to copyrighted works. The four classes of works exempted are:
(1) Compilations consisting of lists of Internet locations blocked by commercially marketed filtering software applications that are intended to prevent access to domains, websites or portions of websites, but not including lists of Internet locations blocked by software applications that operate exclusively to protect against damage to a computer or computer network or lists of Internet locations blocked by software applications that operate exclusively to prevent receipt of email.
(2) Computer programs protected by dongles that prevent access due to malfunction or damage and which are obsolete.
(3) Computer programs and video games distributed in formats that have become obsolete and which require the original media or hardware as a condition of access. A format shall be considered obsolete if the machine or system necessary to render perceptible a work stored in that format is no longer manufactured or is no longer reasonably available in the commercial marketplace.
(4) Literary works distributed in ebook format when all existing ebook editions of the work (including digital text editions made available by authorized entities) contain access controls that prevent the enabling of the ebook's read-aloud function and that prevent the enabling of screen readers to render the text into a specialized format.
You might find this interesting:
It presents one view of Israeli policy. Certainly the writer has a right to an opinion on the matter.
And I am about to install Front Page 2003. We will see how that goes. Wish me luck...
OK: I have Office 2003 and Front Page . It defaults to
Times New Roman and HELP search on default fonts does not give any useful information, but then Microsoft HELP doesn't ever give much in the way of useful information. I'll have to keep mucking about until I find a way to set the default font for Office 2003. I hate this.
But in fact it wasn't hard to find, I just didn't need HELP to find it. Tools, Page Options, and it was in there.
So we have FrontPage 2003 and Office 2003 on the Main Machine here, and it all seems to be working. Outlook installed wonderfully: I uninstalled Office 2000 thinking that I would have to import all the Outlook stuff later, since I kept OUTLOOK.PST in a non-standard place. But when I opened Outlook 2003 it knew about everything including a bunch of plug-ins. Some of the rules needed a bit of attention but not much. This was pretty painless.
November 1, 2003 All Saints Day
I installed Office 2003 and FrontPage 2003 last night. I never had a smoother upgrade: actually I uninstalled Office and FrontPage before I began, but both of them remembered things they ought to have remembered, and the new Outlook looked in the right places.
EXCEPT: by default the NEWS command which used to be in View - Go To -- is nowhere. There is a new Command called Go, and there are instructions on how to drag News into its menu. I did that. It worked. I was able to read my newsgroups (mostly the Science Fiction Writers of America discussions, at the moment heated because of Amazon's "Look Inside The Book" feature; more on that another time). This morning I tried again.
The News command is gone from the Go list, but it is also gone from the list of installable commands. Help has an item "My News command is gone" but it directs me to reinstall it from the command list but the command is gone from that command list. Thus I cannot look at news, at least not from any command within FrontPage.
This I suppose is a Clue: get off my duff and install a different news reader. I will start with Free Agent and go on from there. Suggestions welcomed: I may as well try out some others. I was not unhappy with Outlook Express which Outlook called as the News Reader but it's not all that nice either, so we will see.
Well, that doesn't work. I can't figure out how to tell Agent to go get a list of newsgroups. Worse. When I try I get system errors. There are commands in Agent that might help, but every one of those tells me I have to pay them before the command will work. I don't intend to pay them before it works.
I admit I don't quite know what I am doing, but I don't recall having this difficulty getting Outlook Newsgroup reader to work. But I can't OPEN the Outlook Express news reader, or if I can I can't figure it out.
I HATE this.
If Agent has a command like "Add Group" that worked it would be all right but in fact what it has is a bunch of commands half of them disabled because I didn't pay for this.
This is beginning to drive me nuts. Apparently I have to tell agent to use a different port from the default one but the program stubbornly refuses to let me specify a port or even tell me what port I am in theory using. Perhaps the paid version is good but this Free Agent thing isn't really ready for prime time. I need a different news reader.
All right. I found it. It's the simple user friendly method: EDIT THE Agent.INI file in the usual way. That has got me a list of news groups in the SFWA list anyway. How I am then supposed to look at anything ELSE isn't known, but at least SOMETHING is happening.
Well, I get in there and discover that REPLYING to messages is another of those features you can't use unless you PAY for it. That is sufficiently irritating that I am going to find a different news reader. I was willing to pay for this thing if it worked, but it doesn't work, you can't try it without paying: what the heck use is a mail reader without the ability to reply?
This thing is impossible. I never thought I'd miss Outlook Express which I have been told is awful, but it's sure better than this Agent mess.
OK. I closed OUTLOOK and invoked OUTLOOK Express. Like Mozilla it wants me to make it the default for everything but I got past that, and got to the news groups. I am back where I was last night except that I don't seem to be able to open this from within Outlook itself. At least I can continue the discussion I was in.
This is all very odd. But I sure can't recommend the free version of Agent, and at the moment I am not well enough disposed to them that I want to send them any money.
Found a news group thread that shows how to get the Outlook Express news reader back in the Go menu of Outlook. No guarantee that it will STAY there but it's back. Of course going out to news groups when trying to find out how to access news groups is a pain.
Agent looks at one news server at a time. The paid version may allow for more than one. In my case I need a general one, and the sff news server which needs a special port for access. To change access ports you have to edit the ini file. I wasn't all that happy with the Agent user interface anyway.
Mozilla, they keep telling me, will do this wonderfully, and certainly if you use Mozilla as your news reader it should be easy. In my case I have some reasons for staying with Outlook, which is much better behaved in the 2003 edition than in previous versions, and my whole goal was to have the ability to do the rather limited news group work I do as part of the mail handler. I seem to have the problem solved.
And there's always msimn.exe from a command line.
The problem with Agent was that for reasons I don't need to get into, the Science Fiction Writers of America news server uses a different port from the standard. Agent doesn't allow you to have but one news server (at least the model I have doesn't) and so I needed to have the SFWA server as the one it should go get. To do that I have to edit the INI file to change the port number: there's no way to do it in the menu.
That got me to the SFWA news but by that time I wasn't particularly well disposed toward Agent to begin with, and I had a LOT of trouble navigating. Apparently reply and reply all are not the commands you use to reply to a message in a thread; and are not implemented in the Free Agent version to begin with.
Those interested in Agent should be sure to download the full version which apparently you can use for a while before paying; that way you actually are evaluating what you are going to buy. The Free Agent version is crippled rather badly and is not in my judgment a good way to advertise their product: it infuriated me by popping up 'Nyah Nyah you can't do this unless you pay, click here to pay ' messages that made me determined never to send them a cent. That is probably irrational but they worked at getting me in that mood.
Anyway I am now back to Outlook Express which works as I wanted it to and lets me have more than one news server active.
I've had a relapse. Whatever this infection is, it hangs on and on and on. Don't get it.
I intend to get a new Mac laptop; but not yet because apparently there are a number of real hardware problems with the current 15". Sigh. So it's wait a bit longer. On the positive side, I am glad I didn't buy one of the ones with the problems.
We just saw Under The Tuscan Sun, which is a very good chick flick.
November 2, 2003 All Souls Day
For the resolution to the Outlook/Agent story see above.
http://www.zwire.com/site/10419957.html The Stupid need prayers, too. When a stupid man is doing something he knows is wrong, he always insists that it is his duty. Is this a disease that affects all of Ohio or only part of it?
that is well worth reading. He brings up an attack we all thought of but didn't want to mention; a caution that I suspect was ill informed.
http://www.michaelbach.de/ot/index.html has some really great optical illusions and things of that sort.
Here is a revolting development:
Since I installed Office 2003, if I go to a Washington Post story, it crashes Explorer. Unless: I first open a window, disable Popup Stopper, then go to the Washington Post story. I am then "treated" to a DoubleClick window advertising some muck I don't want.
I have found the remedy: by default Office 2003 apparently turns on some active x controls and turns off some others. By switching some of those options (Tools / Internet Options / Security ) to PROMPT I seem to be able to defeat the popup windows and still not crash the Explorer. I must have got about 20 crashes (and sent every darned one of them to Microsoft) before I began looking about.
Office 2003 seems to change some of your Internet Explorer defaults. Be careful out there.
I am working on an essay on what to do about Iraq. I haven't time for a full piece on this. Here are some thoughts:
We cannot continue losing a trooper a day to this meatgrinder. We can, of course; it's a small price compared to active wars. But neither the troops nor the American people will put up with it without a lot more motivation including more ringing exhortations from national authority.
The effects on the troops are worse than on the American people: the edge goes off, and meanwhile the troops begin to hate the Iraqis. If war is what those people want we can give it to them good and hard. That won't bring peace. As Israel is finding out.
Fortunately we are not in the same situation as the Israelis. We don't have to make promises we can't keep. We can give them their country back, and it's not all that hard to make them believe we will do it. We do have to get realistic about what kind of government we will leave behind. And we should pray for an Ataturk.
Some things are clear.
I would think the above obvious. Since it isn't being done, perhaps it's not obvious, but at the moment I don't think of too many arguments against this view. I agree that to cut and run now would probably leave things over there worse off than if we hadn't gone in. I am not at all convinced that we can make things much better than they were before we went in but surely we can try. We must try.
Following is excerpted from the New York Times:
Despite administration claims, it is simply not true that no one could have predicted the chaos that ensued after the fall of Saddam Hussein. In fact, many officials in the United States, both military and civilian, as well as many Iraqi exiles, predicted quite accurately the perilous state of things that exists in Iraq today. There was ample warning, both on the basis of the specifics of Iraq and the precedent of other postwar deployments -- in Panama, Kosovo and elsewhere -- that the situation in postwar Iraq was going to be difficult and might become unmanageable. What went wrong was not that no one could know or that no one spoke out. What went wrong is that the voices of Iraq experts, of the State Department almost in its entirety and, indeed, of important segments of the uniformed military were ignored. As much as the invasion of Iraq and the rout of Saddam Hussein and his army was a triumph of planning and implementation, the mess that is postwar Iraq is a failure of planning and implementation.
I have to agree with that. But it doesn't answer the question: What Do We Do Now? And how did we get here?
Bremer's first major act was not auspicious. Garner had resisted the kind of complete de-Baathification of Iraqi society that Ahmad Chalabi and some of his allies in Washington had favored. In particular, he had resisted calls to completely disband the Iraqi Army. Instead, he had tried only to fire Baathists and senior military officers against whom real charges of complicity in the regime's crimes could be demonstrated and to use most members of the Iraqi Army as labor battalions for reconstruction projects.
Bremer, however, took the opposite approach. On May 15, he announced the complete disbanding of the Iraqi Army, some 400,000 strong, and the lustration of 50,000 members of the Baath Party. As one U.S. official remarked to me privately, ''That was the week we made 450,000 enemies on the ground in Iraq.''
The decision -- which many sources say was made not by Bremer but in the White House -- was disastrous. In a country like Iraq, where the average family size is 6, firing 450,000 people amounts to leaving 2,700,000 people without incomes; in other words, more than 10 percent of Iraq's 23 million people. The order produced such bad feeling on the streets of Baghdad that salaries are being reinstated for all soldiers. It is a slow and complicated process, however, and there have been demonstrations by fired military officers in Iraq over the course of the summer and into the fall.
In part we were victims of our own success. The Army began to roll, and the enemy collapsed, and we were in Baghdad sooner than we thought. We were supposed to get General Garner in to make things happen, but again, things came about too fast. Garner's people were stuck in Kuwait, without transportation, and their first efforts to get to Baghdad were thwarted when a general confiscated their plane on the grounds that it was more important that he get in than Garner. Once in Baghdad Garner had few resources.
The looting took everyone by surprise. Why? Los Angeles could have told you that if you remove the police and people feel they have been oppressed their first response is looting. And the looting went on, for days and days and days, and Garner was given no resources for stopping it.
The point is not to find people to blame. The military did something no one supposed would happen, took Mesopotamia, the fabulous Mesopotamia, graveyard of invaders, seat of the first civilization; seat of Babylon and Nineveh, seat of Assyria: and did it in days with almost no casualties. What more were they expected to do?
And that is the problem. No one told them what more they were expected to do. And we can wonder: has anyone told them yet?
Iraq has fallen. Now what?
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