Calibre turns 1.0

Calibre, the free e-book management software, hit the magic version 1.0 this past week. That’s not to say the previous versions were unstable, because they weren’t. In the world of open-source software, frequently software doesn’t hit version 1.o until the authors decide that it’s reached a certain level of feature completeness.

In that sense, Calibre’s time has come.

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Loading your own stuff onto your e-reader

I have a fair number of documents I created myself–that probably shouldn’t surprise anyone–but I don’t think I’m the only one who does. And from time to time, I’d like to reference them, and I may not have my computer with me.

Carrying around a cheap Nook or Kindle isn’t much of a problem, though. If only I could get my Word documents to display on it… It turns out that’s not hard to do. Here’s how to load your own content onto a Nook, Kindle, or any other similar device. Read more

How to tame e-books

I haven’t exactly been rushing out to buy an e-reader, for at least a couple of reasons. The practical reason is that I’m afraid of being locked in to a single vendor. Amazon is the market leader and the most likely to still be around for the long term, but they’re the worst about locking you in. The other vendors offer slightly better interoperability–supporting the same file format and, optionally, the same DRM–but the non-Amazon market leaders are Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Sony, all of which are scary. Borders is being liquidated; B&N isn’t losing money–yet–but its profit margins have shrunk each of the last two years; and Sony’s recent problems are well known to the security community. I’m not too anxious to climb into bed with any of them. Google is entering the market as well, but the first Google-backed e-reader doesn’t support highlighting or note-taking.

The Luddite reason is that I’m old enough to have an attachment to books. Physical books, printed on paper. Maybe this isn’t true for any generation beyond mine (I’m a GenXer), but for my generation and previous generations, having books on your shelf is a sign of being educated. And there are certain books–or types of books, depending on your field–that you’re expected to have on your shelf.

To a certain extent, the latter reason can be negated by playing the e-reader card. Of course I have the complete works of Shakespeare on my e-reader, so those Shakespeare books from college just became clutter…
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Technobabble

Grisoft AVG works as advertised. If you don’t want to pay for virus protection, do yourself and your friends a favor and head over to Grisoft and download the free edition of AVG. I used it Monday night to disinfect a friend’s PC that had become infected by the infamous KAK virus.
Free-for-personal-use anti-virus tools have a nasty habit of becoming un-free within a year or two of their release, but look at it this way: AVG at least saves you a year or two of paying for virus update subscriptions.

It’s not as whiz-bang as the tools from Norton or McAfee but it works. You can’t get as fine-grained about scheduling stuff but that doesn’t matter so much. You can schedule things like scans and updates, and it does find and isolate the viruses, and you can’t beat the price. Go get it.

Linux on vintage P2s. I helped Gatermann get Debian up and running on his vintage HP Kayak workstation last night. This is an early P2-266 workstation. Gatermann marveled at how it was put together, and with the calibre of components in it. It had a high-end (for its time) Matrox AGP card in it, plus onboard Adaptec Wide SCSI, 128 MB of ECC SDRAM, and a 10,000-RPM IBM Wide SCSI hard drive. It arrived stripped of its original network card; Gatermann installed an Intel EtherExpress Pro.

In its day, this was the best Intel-based workstation money could buy, and you needed a lot of it. Of course, back in that day I was working on the copydesk of a weekly magazine in Columbia, Mo. and chasing a girl named Rachel (who I would catch, then lose, about a year later). And I probably hadn’t turned 22 yet either. Needless to say, that was a while ago. It seems like 100 years ago now.

Today, the most impressive thing about the system is its original price tag, but it remains a solidly built system that’s very useful and very upgradable. He can add another CPU, and depending on what variation his particular model is, he can possibly upgrade to as much as a P2-450. A pair of 450s is nothing to turn your nose up at. And of course he can add a variety of SCSI hard drives to it.

Debian runs fine on the system; its inability to boot doesn’t bother me too much. I occasionally run across systems that just won’t boot a Linux CD, but once I manage to get them running (either by putting the drive in another PC for the installation process or by using a pair of boot floppies to get started) they run fine.

The system didn’t want to boot Debian on CD, or any other Linux for that matter. So we made a set of boot floppies, then all was well.

The batch that this computer came from is long gone, but I expect more to continue to appear on the used market as they trickle out of the firms that bought them. They are, after all, long since obsolete for their original purpose. But they’re a bargain. These systems will remain useful for several years, and are built well enough that they probably will be totally obsolete before they break.

02/14/2001

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
Chris

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.

01/28/2001

I liked how yesterday’s experiment went. So here’s the good stuff I found yesterday.

Laptop intro (Tom’s Hardware Guide)

Aside from spelling errors (notebooks have “gismos,” and PCMCIA network cards connect to CAT5 cable through the use of a “dangle”), this is a pretty good introduction to notebook PCs, covering recent developments like miniPCI and MDC as well and explaining oft-confusing battery technology.

The roundup of video chipsets common in notebooks is nice, and includes the important but easily overlooked power consumption of each solution.

I was disappointed that there was no mention of a previous THG notebook article, http://www4.tomshardware.com/cpu/00q4/001107/index.html , which talked about little-known upgrade paths–by replacing the MMC in a notebook, it’s possible to cross generations. Yes, you can upgrade an old Pentium-based notebook to a P2 or Celeron, assuming you can find an aftermarket MMC.

When you have information like that, there’s nothing wrong with mentioning it whenever another article with similar information gets posted.

These two articles are essential reading if you’re in the market for a laptop, or if your job includes spec’ing and ordering laptops.

EPoX EP-8KTA3 review (AnandTech)

Good discussion of the board’s weaknesses, especially in regards to routing cables and heat dissipation. Heat might be less of an issue if they didn’t assume everyone overclocks, but heat is your PC’s enemy, whether you’re running out of spec or within it. Also good coverage of this board’s special features, including a two-digit diagnostic LCD display on the board. If something goes wrong and it can’t boot, this board will tell you what happened.

Benchmarking is limited to Content Creation, Sysmark, and Quake III Arena under Windows 98, so this is hardly an authoritative evaluation of performance. If you’re into flight sims, racing games, strategy games, or RPG games (let’s face it, first-person shooters aren’t everyone’s thing, and for good reason), Anand’s benchmarks are worthless to you.

This is a decent review, but hardly authoritative. If you’re thinking about buying a KT133A-based Athlon board and you’re considering the EP-8KTA3, you’ll definitely want to look for reviews on another site. You’ll know from reading the KT-133A roundup at THG  that the EP-8KTA3 is a better all-around performer than the Abit K7TA, but you won’t get that from this review.

Mosel Vitelic “PC143” SDRAM (Hardware Daily)

Dangerous, dangerous, dangerous. To wit: “This Mosel Vitelic ram is actually the same as Mushkin Rev2.0 ram. But this one doesn’t have the Mushkin stickers on it and it doesn’t comes with the bubble delivery bag.” Wrong, wrong, wrong. Same chips doesn’t mean same module. Same PCB and same chips doesn’t necessarily mean same module. Here’s the scoop: a 7ns chip may not necessarily run at 7 ns. If a chip runs at 6.9 ns, it’s marked as 7. If it runs at 6.6 ns, it’s marked at 7. If it runs at 7.1, it’s marked as 7.5. What Mushkin’s doing is testing and putting the very fastest 7s on their rev. 3 modules. The second-best go on the rev. 2s. This takes additional testing, which adds to the cost. Buy your Mosel Vitelic memory elsewhere, and you’ll have some 6.6 ns chips and some 7.0s–your results won’t be predictable. One module may run a lot faster than the next. But we’re way ahead of ourselves here.

“According to sisoft Sandra 2001, the chips on this ram is made by Apacer rated at 133mhz.” Wrong again. The reviewer’s hardware knowledge seems as limited as his knowledge of proper English grammar. The chips are made by Mosel Vitelic ( www.moselvitelic.com ), a Taiwanese memory manufacturer who’s been around since 1991 (it was a merger of two companies, each founded in 1983) whose memory is gaining a reputation among overclockers because of its use by Mushkin. Apacer ( www.apacer.com ), on the other hand, makes memory modules.

He then ran some tests in SiSoft Sandra that make this memory look very impressive, but they didn’t do anything to stress-test the RAM to ensure that indeed it was stable at 160 MHz. They also encourage running it at 160 MHz CAS3, which is dubious advice–you get better burst speeds but higher latency that way. That’s precisely the problem with Rambus. How about some benchmarks that more closely resemble real-world performance?

Mosel Vitelic is getting such a reputation that you’ll soon see cheap, generic PCBs with Mosel Vitelic chips on them being sold dirt cheap and bought by misinformed people who read reviews like this and think they’re getting Mushkin-calibre memory for half price.

Mosel Vitelic does make and market their own modules, but that’s not what this is. Manufacturers like Mosel Vitelic and Apacer will be pretty safe, but what you’re paying for when you buy Mushkin is their hand-picking of chips, so you’ll get better, or at least more consistent, results with a Mushkin module.

If you want a near clone of Mushkin memory, you’ll have to look for a module manufactured by Mosel Vitelic themselves (good luck), or by a brand-name maker like Apacer containing 7 ns Mosel Vitelic chips. But you won’t necessarily get the same results.

The review concludes with this: “I highly recommend this ram for people who are looking for good overclocking performance. This teaches us a lesson that good ram isn’t always expensive!”

Unfortunately, the reviewer recommended the wrong thing. The true lesson of this review is that you don’t always get burned when you buy cheap memory, but a few runs of SiSoft Sandra isn’t a good way to test system stability, so this reviewer really doesn’t know what he’s got. He only thinks he does.

01/06/2001

New adventures in SCSI. I was digging around this week and I found an old SCSI card. The PCB identified it as an Initio INI-9100A. I seem to recall I got it with my CD burner a few years back, and that I ditched it when it wouldn’t work with Windows 2000 RC2. Curious to see if drivers were ever released for it, I checked Initio’s Web site, and lo and behold, the release version of Windows 2000 was supposed to support the card. Since I’ve got a couple of decent SCSI CD-ROM drives laying around, I figured, why not try it?

I was unhappy to see Windows 2000 failed to bring up the Add New Hardware wizard after installation, but when I looked in Device Manager, the card was there. So I powered down, connected an old NEC 12X SCSI CD-ROM to it, powered back up, and bingo! I even got activity during boot. A quick verification by reading the disc, and I’m happy. So I powered down again. What else can I throw at it…? I spied an ancient, ancient Quantum 52 MB SCSI drive. (Don’t ask me why I keep this stuff.) I knew the card wouldn’t boot off it, since it lacks an onboard BIOS, but would the drive still work, I wondered? So I powered down, plugged the ancient thing in there, power back up, and I thought I saw the drive’s LED flicker during boot. Yes, back in this drive’s day, hard drives had LEDs on the front of them. They even had faceplates! I watched Windows finish booting, opened My Computer, and sure enough, I had an extra hard drive up there. But what on Earth could be on it? I opened up the drive, and hit gold. I must have used the drive sometime within the past five years, because it contained a copy of Caldera OpenDOS. That, believe it or not, is extremely useful. OpenDOS’ FDISK will delete any partition, unlike Microsoft’s. So I’m very glad I tried the drive.

So now I’ve got two SCSI-equipped systems, one of which is bootable. I’ve got an excuse to go buy a $220 IBM or Quantum 10,000 RPM SCSI drive… Uh oh. Good thing I got some overtime at work this week and will get some more this weekend.

And it looks like it’s unplanned upgrade time. Tom Gatermann called me up yesterday. He was replacing our friend Tim Coleman’s hard drive and the system just wouldn’t come back up. He futzed around with it for an hour, trying everything he could think of, then called me. I had him try putting the hard drive on auto detect, reset all the PnP/ESCD data, and of course, check all the cables. Nothing. The board would POST, then die. Well, without having a POST card (I know how to make one except I don’t have an EPROM burner) I can’t diagnose it any further.

Come to think of it, I should have had him disable L2 cache and see if that brought it back to life. It’d be slow as can be, but that’s a good way to troubleshoot a Socket 7 system, or a 386 or 486 for that matter. Strip the system down to just motherboard, CPU, video, a boot device, and a single bank of memory (a single DIMM or one pair of SIMMs). Disable L2 cache. If it works with L2 cache disabled, it’s a motherboard problem of some sort. Check all jumpers, re-seat anything that’s re-seatable, and try again. If it still doesn’t work, it has to be a CPU, video, or memory problem. Then you’ve got a few more steps to try, including disabling L1 cache and switching out the video and memory.

Tom took the system home with him, so I’ll be giving it a look today.

At any rate, it looks like we’re dealing with a blown board, and every time Tom or I do anything with that system, something goes. Tim’s on power supply #2, motherboard #2, sound card #2… Tim’s got an army of cats, and the system’s on the floor, which gives me concern. The system can pull in cat hair, and with it, static electricity. And I don’t know how good Tim’s wiring is. It’s a very maddening problem. Had anyone else built the system, I’d be cursing them, but Tom and I built it ourselves, and we used the same calibre parts we use in our own systems. So we think it’s an environmental problem.

I’m thinking I’ll go ahead and pick up a Gigabyte motherboard with a Duron chip on it, then give Tim my two-year-old AOpen AX59Pro board. I normally run systems much longer than that, but I want to help Tim, and I really ought to try to stay somewhat current.

Linux 2.4 again. I was right. Within 4 hours of 2.4’s release, Alan Cox released Linux2.4-ac1. A few hours after that, Linux2.4-ac2 followed. When does he sleep, I wonder?

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