More from across the Big Pond. I got this from Chris Miller, one of my editors at Computer Shopper UK, yesterday. Always good to hear from him because he makes me think, even though we rarely agree about anything but magazine design.

Hi Dave

I’ve been looking at the web page and I’m glad you like the ‘Window cleaner’ illustration from the new issue – much better than the blue blobs. Also glad you are holding up Shopper UK as a paragon of design. Thanks.

I shall avoid the subject of John Ashcroft, whom you appear to revere for all the wrong reasons. What I really want to say is that I think you need to prioritise your outrage. A ‘sick, sick society’ is not one where a high school can produce a play about rape, but one where children are shot and killed in schoolyards every day. The purpose of art is sometimes to shock – insecurity and violence are perfectly valid themes to explore. And why tell a story about secure, confident people who know exactly what they are doing? Where’s the drama in that? If that were all that was allowed, there would be no “Romeo and Juliet”, no “Jane Eyre”, no “Jude the Obscure”, no “Psycho” – cultural landmarks all.

Guns, however, are a serious social problem in your country which no-one seems to want to do anything about because of some semi-mythological “constitutional right” – which is, if I may speak frankly, bulls–t. I’m tired of the excuses everybody uses – guns mean massive profits and no-one, except maybe a few Ivy League intellectuals and northern-California hippies, is really serious about banning them. This despite Columbine, the disgruntled postal workers, the dot com rage and countless other pointless and avoidable deaths.

High school plays are not the scourge of American society.

Cheers now

I think you take me for having oversimplified far more than I have. Inappropriate high school plays are mostly a symptom of the problem–I won’t say they don’t cause problems, but no, we won’t solve all our social ills by toning down our school plays or our television. But it wouldn’t hurt anything either.

Likewise, getting rid of all our guns won’t eliminate all our violence. Guns are outlawed in Britain, but does anyone really believe the IRA doesn’t have guns? But there are other, more creative and more effective ways to kill people and blow things up than to use guns, and you can do it with regular, perfectly legal household items, as the IRA has so effectively demonstrated over the years.

It’s not like massacres happen every day in the United States. Once or twice a year, someone’s caught planning one, like earlier this week, and on the occasional God-forsaken day, an event like Columbine happens.

But banning handguns is a very superficial solution to a bigger problem–no less superficial than banning school plays or a particular television show. Banning guns won’t keep them out of the hands of criminals. Even if it would, desperate or very angry people would commit their crimes with knives or other weapons, just as they did before guns were reliable. The irrefutable fact is that in the handful of states that have gone the opposite extreme and enacted concealed weapons laws, crime has gone down. Social engineers HATE to talk about that because it goes beyond all the hip, chic theories of the day. So a guy walks into McDonald’s and starts shooting. He’s in control. But then some gun-totin’ cowboy (to use the popular image of Americans) whips out his gun and from behind the cover of a table, starts shooting back. The odds are suddenly changed. Can the citizen with the gun prevent anyone from getting hurt? No. But he greatly increases the probability of the one person in the building who deserves to die in such situations (the armed gunman) of sustaining bodily harm of some sort, and greatly decreases the number of potential casualties. And what if there are two or three snipers? The out-of-control situation gets back under control real quick, with minimal harm.

You don’t hear of these situations often because 1) they don’t happen very often and 2) the hard left-leaning press hates these stories.

But remember, this works in the United States but sounds like insanity in Europe because of the differences in our culture. In Europe, private ownership of weapons was a threat to the government, so it generally didn’t happen. In the Americas, weapons were absolutely vital to protect yourself on the frontier–there were hostile animals out there, and yes, hostile people. As the frontier pushed west, weapons were less essential, but they didn’t become unnecessary. Then we gained independence, and the government favored private ownership of guns early on, partly because a citizens’ militia meant there was little need for a standing army, which saved tax dollars, which kept the citizens happy because they hated taxes. That didn’t last, but guns remained a necessity in the west for about a century. To a degree, they still are a necessity in some segments of our society–there are still predators out there that threaten your livestock. Guns are part of our culture, and you won’t transplant overnight the disarmed European culture that formed over a timeframe of centuries to the United States. But the Wild West approach still works here.

But this, too, is a symptom. The greater problem is that we’ve lost our moral compass. OK, so you don’t like my religion. Demonstrate to me that a society that says it’s OK to kill, OK to cheat on your spouse, OK to steal, OK to disrespect your parents, and OK to lie can thrive. Find me one. You won’t.

Whether you like the religion or not, you can’t deny that its set of morals just plain works. But so few teach right and wrong anymore–now you just do what feels good. It feels good to cheat on your wife, so you should do it. You’re liberated. OK. So how is that different from me deciding it feels good to kill my former neighbor who caused me so much grief? Or what about my current neighbor’s nice black BMW? Wouldn’t that be a much nicer ride than my Dodge Neon? Why not steal that? If it feels good, I should do it, right?

Personally, I fail to see the difference.

So what’s the matter here? We’ve got a very self-centered society, interested in very little other than individual pleasure. So go screw around, it’s fun. The eventual result of that is kids. That’s OK, they’re fun too when they’re winning trophies and doing good. Just don’t get in my way. Here’s the remote. Here’s a video game. Have fun. Don’t bother me. And the kids grow up with parents (or a parent) respecting no one but themselves, and they learn that behavior.

So the kids grow up. Their most basic needs of food and clothing and shelter are being met. Usually. But their emotional needs aren’t. Their parents aren’t really there for them. So they don’t mature properly. They don’t exactly learn right and wrong. Their parents don’t model it for them, and they sure aren’t being taught it in school. Growing up is tough. I remember. I was a smart kid, too smart for my own good maybe, and yeah, it made me unpopular. A lot of people didn’t like it. Plus I wasn’t a big guy. I’m 5’9″, 140 pounds now. (Below average height and below average weight, for the benefit of those on the metric system.) At 14, I was 5’4″, not even 100 pounds. I was an easy target. I got in my share of fights, and I usually didn’t win. For one, the bully was almost always bigger than me. For another, I was always outnumbered anyway. Growing up too smart can be as bad as growing up the wrong race. F. Scott Fitzgerald got it right in The Great Gatsby, when his character Daisy said, after her daughter was born, “All right, I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool–that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”

Actually, he got it half right. The best thing a guy can be in this world is a beautiful little fool, or better yet, a big hulking fool. People like dumb, beautiful people, because they’re good to look at and they’re non-threatening.

I’ll be brutally blunt: I grew up with a lot of jackasses, and frankly, there were times that I thought the world would have been a much better place if someone brought a gun to school and pumped some lead into their ugly faces. There. I said it.

When I read about the Columbine killers, it resonated with me. I understood those guys completely. One of them was the brains of the outfit. The other was a follower, pure and simple. But I understood how they felt, I understood (and even dug) the music they listened to, and for a time I even dressed like those two did. One of my former classmates even told me after the event, “Those two guys remind me of you.” After all, I used to run around in a black trenchcoat, black t-shirt and black jeans and combat boots, looking gloomy and listening to Joy Division and The Sisters of Mercy.

And don’t get me wrong. My dad had guns. My dad had a lot of guns. He kept the really big stuff locked up, but he had handguns stashed. There was a Derringer he kept in his sock drawer. He had another gun he kept stashed inside the couch in the basement. For all I know he had others. He taught me how to shoot the Derringer. He also taught me how to shoot a .22-calibre rifle. I wasn’t very good, but at close range you don’t have to be.

So why didn’t I turn into one of those guys? My dad taught me to respect human life. Dad was a doctor. Dad even treated a couple of guys on death row. There was a guy who used to hire drifters to steal cattle, then sell them quickly. Then he’d kill them to eliminate the evidence (and cheat them out of their share of the money). I don’t remember how many times he did this. My dad had a brief encounter with him while he was getting an x-ray. They exchanged words, and it wasn’t exactly nice. “Meanest sonofabitch I ever met,” he recalled. I asked him why he treated him, especially seeing as they were going to kill him anyway. Know what he said? He said it wasn’t his job to kill him. It was his job to make sure he had the same quality of life (or as close to it) as anyone else. Killing the man was the state’s job, if it ever got around to it.

So if my dad could respect the life of this man, who by the account of everyone who ever met him wasn’t worth the oxygen he breathed over the course of a day, then shouldn’t I respect the lives of the people at school?

Dad (and Mom too) taught me right and wrong. And they didn’t ignore me, they disciplined me when I stepped out of line. The worst happened when I was 2 or 3. I was being the epitome of brat, and making matters worse, we were guests at a family friend’s house. My mom took me out to the garage, partly to figure out what to do with me. Well, it was March or so, so it wasn’t too cold in there, and it wasn’t too hot, and there was absolutely nothing to do in there either, so she found a lawn chair and told me I had to sit there until I decided to act civilized. Then she went back in the house. Our host asked, “Where’s David?” and my mom told her. After about fifteen minutes, she came back out and asked if I could act civil. I said yes.

That was the most trouble I was ever in. Yes, I got spanked a few times (but it was a very few), and I got yelled at a few times. But with my parents, discipline was consistent, and it was swift. And because it was those things, it was rare–I didn’t step out of line much.

I don’t think the idea that if I were to commit a crime, I might be able to beat the system ever occurred to me until I was 18 or 19. If I didn’t beat the system at home or at school, why should I expect to be able to beat the government?

So no, I never thought of killing my antagonizers. And that’s fine. They got theirs. My biggest antagonizer never finished school. At 17, his parents kicked him out of the house. He drifted around a couple of years, living out of a van and the occasional cheap motel, then finally settled down. At age 21, he was working in a restaurant, doing the same job as a lot of 17-year-olds. He’d be 27 now, and if there’s anything more pathetic than a 14-year-old loser, it’s a 27-year-old loser, and anyone who knew us both would see it now.

Meanwhile, I kept working, doing my best at what I was good at, doing my best to ignore the taunts, and a funny thing happened. At age 17, the taunts stopped. People didn’t mess with the seniors–we were the oldest people in the school besides the teachers. We’d paid our dues. We earned our respect. And the seniors didn’t mess with each other. Being smart became almost… admirable. In college, that was even more so. And get out into the professional world, and it’s even more so. The things that people made fun of you for in school raise eyebrows now. I’m not at the pinnacle of success, but I have everything I want or I can get it.

So, coming back around again… It starts at home. It starts with the family paying attention to its members, and doing its duty. Morals may not be any fun, but an immoral society is even less fun. Certain things like life, dignity, and personal property have to be honored absolutely. Do these things, and you won’t come out all bad. The occasional bad apple will still slip through, but it’ll be an oddity, and a whole lot easier to deal with.

Do these things, one family at a time, and I don’t care what culture you’re in, you won’t go wrong. The whole culture will benefit, with or without guns, with or without questionable forms of entertainment.


Mailbag: (I apologize for the error yesterday!)

VCache; Hacking setup

Sales of Optimizing Windows are surging. It’s been in the 3,000 range lately in sales rank at Amazon, which is much higher than it’s been in many months. The insane $7.50 asking price probably has something to do with it. Across the Big Pond, Amazon UK is sold out and has the book on order. Thanks to all who have ordered copies.

Linux experiments. I loaded up Mandrake 7.2 on my dual Celeron box yesterday. I’d forgotten how nice Linux can be compared to Windows: Here I was, recompiling a kernel, with a full KDE desktop running, and the system was using all of my 320 MB of RAM and not touching the swap space. That’s efficiency. I had a process monitor running, and no matter what I was doing, Linux was using just under 320 MB of RAM for something or another, adjusting its usage on the fly as my demands changed.

So, why was I recompiling a kernel? I wanted an all-Reiser setup, no ext2, for speed purposes, and Mandrake can’t do that out of the box. So I was compiling a kernel to include static ReiserFS support. Then I formatted a Reiser partition and copied the entire setup over to that new partition. But first I had to have a kernel that could speak Reiser from the get-go, which Mandrake’s provided kernel does not. Also, Mandrake’s kernel is Pentium-optimized, and I wanted i686 optimization since this is a Celeron system.

The process for getting an all-Reiser Mandrake setup isn’t too terribly hairy; I’ll probably do a writeup soon. I found some instructions for doing it with Red Hat 6.2, but they were either inaccurate or Mandrake changed some stuff. I was able to figure it out pretty easily, but then again, I was writing a book about Linux until recently so my opinion of the difficulty level probably doesn’t count. Copying 1.1 gigs of data over from the original ext2 filesystem over to the new Reiser filesystem takes a good bit of time though, especially if they reside on the same drive.

It’s pretty impressive how far Linux has come over the course of the past year. Mandrake 7 was good enough that I thought I might be able to get by without Windows. With Mandrake 7.2 I certainly could get by without it, except now I’m making my money off Windows so I won’t. But I could give my mom a Mandrake 7.2 box and she’d be happier with it than she is with the Mac she has at work. It would be far more stable, far faster, less expensive, and it can do everything she does with her Mac (read e-mail, browse the Web, and run WordPerfect). And its hardware use is certainly more prudent than Windows’ is. My dual Celeron-366 is a pretty good W2K box, but running Linux, especially with a custom kernel tuned to my hardware, it’s a really nice workstation. And it was cheap!

Christianity revisited. Hopefully yesterday’s post wasn’t universally read as criticism of Roman Catholicism as a whole. Many Lutherans are every bit as obsessed with traditionalism, hence my “Wait, therefore, for 15th-century Germans to come to you,” statement that I know will offend a number of people. (It’s good for them.)

There are dying churches in every denomination, sadly. And vibrant churches in all of them as well. Hopefully those who survive will be able to carry the torch when they need to.

Aimee Mann rarities. I have information from a reliable source that Aimee Mann’s first recording, Bark Along With the Young Snakes, released in 1982, is still available from the publisher, for $15, shipping included. You can contact him at eazyasabc@nospam.aka.com. (Remove the “nospam” from the address when e-mailing him.)

You bet I’ve already ordered my copy, though more for historical interest than anything else. She’s a much better songwriter at age 40 than she was at 22, but there’s a certain novelty to hearing her sing punk rock.

Sorry about yesterday’s mail. The file is nowhere to be found on this server. I’ll have to let Di know; hopefully it still exists somewhere on her computer.

Mailbag: (I apologize for the error yesterday!)

VCache; Hacking setup


~Mail follows today’s post~

Optimizing Windows is half price at Amazon.com. I questioned whether that might mean we’re nearing the end of the line, but that seems not to be the case. The paperback edition of Robert Lutz’s business book about the transformation of Chrysler in the late 1980s, Guts, is also half-price. I know that book’s not going out of print yet. So Amazon must be running some kind of holiday promotion on paperbacks.

What’s Optimizing Windows all about? My premise is that no PC built in the last three years or so is truly obsolete. You’ve got a pile of resources there, and Windows probably isn’t using them wisely. I argue that you need to make your computer work smarter, before you make it work harder, and I show you how. (Contrary to what one person asked me, it’s not a book about bird feeders.)

For $12.47, you can definitely squeeze another year out of that old clunker (or add some more zip to your new hot rod). This is the book I needed but couldn’t find when I was faced with the challenge of managing a fleet of three-year-old PCs, well past obsolesence, but with no funds to replace them. The three-year-old PCs of today are much better than they were in 1997.

So if you’ve been waiting to pick up Optimizing Windows, this is a good time to do it.

That’s enough attempt at marketing for one day. Well, wait, one more thing. Here’s a review by popular Canadian syndicated columnist Sandy McMurray.

Presidential questions. Chris Miller, the production editor at Computer Shopper UK, wrote in with some questions that really made me sit down and think about the election. I think this bears repeating and I have little else to say, so here goes.

Incidentally… isn’t it worth campaigning for electoral justice when (a) it’s looking like the candidate with more votes will lose, (b) there’s the distinct whiff of corruption in Jeb’s Florida, and (c) the man you say should win is a murderer of innocent men and the mentally disabled?

Just a thought, I’m sure they know what they’re doing

To which I responded:

I’m sure we’re giving you plenty of laughs across the Big Pond with our election. My reaction to your questions…
a. This isn’t the first time this has happened. It doesn’t happen often–the other time was in 1888, when Grover Cleveland lost to Benjamin Harrison despite winning the popular vote. The United States is a republic, not a true democracy. George W. Bush did win the larger number of states, and a much larger geographic area. Al Gore’s support is very much concentrated along each coast and mostly in metropolitan areas. There’s no question that Bush could have won the popular vote. But politicians care about electoral votes, rather than the popular vote, and adjust their game plan accordingly. (Both candidates garnered far more votes than Bill Clinton ever did.)
b. There are questionable acts in Florida from both sides. Statisticians have questioned the likelihood of Gore gaining the number of votes he has. It’s very easy to steal a close election, and both parties have done it before in the past. This is the first time a presidential election has been this closely contested, however. There’ve been opportunities in the past–Gerald Ford in 1976 and Richard Nixon in 1960 are the most notable recent examples. For various reasons, they didn’t contest. Republicans filling out missing information on requests for absentee ballots (not, as widely reported, on the ballots themselves–that didn’t happen) is questionable, but even Gore himself said every vote should be counted. (I think he really means “every vote for me should be counted,” but that’s not what he said, and no one ever put Al Gore in charge of this election. We’re a republic, not a dictatorship.)
But the alleged “mob” Gore speaks of was about 30 well-dressed people whose lone demand was that the press be let in to observe recounting procedures. If everything going on behind those doors was free and clear, why were they afraid to let the press in? Why did they feel the need to try to paint this group of protesters as a mob?
Meanwhile, there was a case, not widely reported, in Washington of a Gore supporter punching a 13-year-old boy in the stomach for carrying an anti-Gore sign. No one in the group of Gore supporters pointed out the perpetrator to police.
c. The death penalty is one of the few protections citizens have against cruel and unusual crimes. Not all states have it. Bush is more of a death penalty hawk than some governors, but the citizens of Texas were the ones who put that law on the books. Bush is simply the final appeal for criminals who have been tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death. He’s not the jury, he’s not the executioner, nor is he the judge who does the sentencing.
But I think my greatest lament is there was a time when the two major presidential candidates and parties trusted one another enough to politely step aside and transfer power. They did not truly believe that the other party, or at least one politician, could destroy the country in 2, 4, or 6 years (be they a representative, president, or senator). History has proven that. We have plenty of infamous presidents who were caught breaking the law or doing (or trying to do) things of questionable legality under the Constitution: Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses Grant, Warren Harding, Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton… None of them destroyed the country. Some of them changed it very dramatically. But Harding may have been the most corrupt of the bunch (at least his administration was), and no one’s ever heard of him today.
The president has more power than the Queen, certainly, but the president is a figurehead. Without Congressional support, they can’t do much of anything. The overwhelming majority of US citizens know that, and would rather see this election resolved quickly than to see the fight go on. Gore’s support is eroding by the day, if not by the hour.
I believe Gore is mostly interested in being president, and gives indications he seems to believe the presidency is his birthright. The best thing for him to do would have been to go home, then run again in four years. He got more votes this year than Bill Clinton did either time he ran (as did Bush). Usually, a losing presidential candidate’s career is over, but not always. Richard Nixon ran again in 1968 after losing a close (but not this close) race in 1960, and won. Grover Cleveland won the presidency in 1884, lost his 1888 re-election bid (but won the popular vote–a parallel Gore should have noticed), then won four years later when he ran again. Gore probably stood a better chance of defeating Bush in 2004 than any other Democrat would, with the possible exception of Dick Gephardt, who won’t run anyway until he gets his chance to be Speaker of the House. The US economy isn’t likely to sustain its current levels because our booming economy is largely due to people spending more than they make and racking up debt and that has to slow down, and it won’t be Bush’s fault, but he’ll take the fall, so the same thing that happened to his dad could very easily happen to him. Gore should have cut his losses and gone home, especially once this election reached the point where there was no legal precedent to overturn it.
These are my thoughts, based on the year and a half or so I spent as a part-time political reporter, in addition to what I’ve picked up from friends who are political activists (both conservative and liberal), and from my knowledge of US history (a subject on which most USers are woefully deficient). I’m certainly more conservative than Gore, and that colors my opinion, but eight years of Clinton have proven to me that my history teachers were right–even given eight years in office, no president is likely to destory this country. There is no historical precedence for it. Now, if we are now on a slippery slope after a century of mostly questionable presidents, maybe one will be able to in the near future. I know Bush won’t destroy us and I’m pretty sure Gore couldn’t either, at least not with a Republican-controlled or evenly divided Congress.
Discussions have been posted. Click the skull below, or click here.
From: “Tom Brill” <tbrill@nospam.orofino-id.com>
Subject: good modems

Love your column. Ordered your book. Last Friday you mentioned that Zoom had a quality modem. Do you remember the model? Is it true that all external modems are non Win-modems?
Thanks, Tom

Thanks much!
The Zoom 2920 was the internal PCI controller-based modem I was referring to. I’ve had great luck with Lucent-based modems and Zoom is one of the few remaining reputable modem manufacturers out there.
Zoom has a nice configurator at http://www.zoom.com/modemsna.html where you can find a modem to meet your needs. To avoid getting a Winmodem, specify Unix or Linux compatibility, even if you intend to use it with Windows, and look for the words “controller based”–most modem makers will tout that as a feature these days and throw in buzzwords like “performance” and “enhanced” and “speed.”
US Robotics has a chart at http://www.usrobotics.com/products/home/compare-home.asp that serves a similar purpose. The consumer-oriented US Robotics Performance Pro modem (3CP5610A) also looks good. Not sure if USR is still developing and using their own chipsets or if they’ve gone to Lucent and Rockwell chipsets as a cost-saving measure.
I know of no external Winmodems, but they’re not a technical impossibility. I doubt we’ll ever see serial (RS-232) Winmodems, but USB Winmodems would be less of a surprise. I know of none, and it kind of defeats the purpose, but the words “no external modems are Winmodems” make me nervous. If you want to be really safe now and in the future, look for DOS and Linux compatibility even if you’re buying an external.
Thanks again.
From: Al Hedstrom
Subject: The Optimizing Book

Dave –
Yes, Amazon has it on sale, but they make up for it on their shipping.  I did a comparison for final cost with shipping and tax and BookPool is still cheaper (by 30 cents).
Just thought you’d like to know.
BTW, I think your notes today were excellent.  I’ve followed your column for a few years now, but your comments on American politics were right on the money. 
Al Hedstrom
Figures. I hate it when companies lower their prices but then jack their shipping rates up to compensate. Especially when it ruins my marketing schpiel. In my day, I’ll tell you, people were honest and didn’t do things like–oh. Wait a minute. I’m 25. This is my day. Were people ever honest?
I guess the workaround is to order $100 worth of stuff so you can get the free shipping. Or order from Bookpool.
And thanks for the compliments on my soapboxing, both here and on your site. In response to your comments there, back when I was writing for newspapers, you know what editors did when I tried to write like that? They’d sprinkle their agenda into it, so I looked like a left-wing nut by the time the thing was finished. Of course, it was my name on it, not theirs. So I had to turn into a right-wing nut in the hopes that they’d miss a couple of right-wing nuggets and we’d have a somewhat balanced perspective. So I started writing about technology, in hopes that it’d all sail over the editors’ heads and they’d leave it alone. They found ways to mess that up too. So I said screw it, I’ll get a job fixing computers instead because at least it pays better.
And that’s why I don’t stop talking about Shopper UK. An editor’s job is to make sure the reporter/writer did his/her job and that the story doesn’t break any laws. But there aren’t many of those out there.
From: “Bruce Edwards” <Bruce@nospam.BruceEdwards.com>
Subject: The Election

Hi Dave:
Enjoyed reading your journal today and appreciate your political view point. Another item some folks seem to forget (and I have not read the Texas statutes to verify this, but this is what has been reported) is that the governor of Texas can not stay an execution permanently or pardon someone condemned to die.  What he can do is give them a 30 day reprieve.  That, of course, does not change the valid point that the execution of those guilty of terrible crimes should  be done in the most solemn manner.
On a slightly different but related subject – if you find the time, I’d really appreciate your critique of my online journal and your comments on any of the topics discussed if they interest you.  I’ve been mostly thinking about the election lately and that really shows in the last four weeks or so but there are other topics addressed.
Well, I hope you have a great weekend.  I look forward to your continued journal updates.
Bruce W. Edwards www.BruceEdwards.com/journal
Thanks. I’ll try to head your direction. I’m not the most well-traveled Daynoter due to my infamous wrists, but I’ll see what I can do. Not sure when I’ll fire off something like Saturday’s or Friday’s again (I
thought Friday’s late update was the better piece, which shows what I know), but I try to make it worth everyone’s while to come around.
Thanks again.

WordPress Appliance - Powered by TurnKey Linux