Monthly Archives: November 2009

Thankful

I have much to be thankful for.

  • Today is our wedding anniversary. That’s right, Milady has been putting up with my craziness for twenty-three years today.
  • It is also six years to the day since we moved into our house.
  • We have a roof over our head
  • We have a fridge full of food.
  • We are debt-free except for the house.
  • We live on less than we make.
  • I have a job that I live that allows me to make a good living.

That makes me luckier than about 98% of the world’s population

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Office and Windows

When dealing with non-geeks, one of the commonest and most aggravating areas of confusion is that of Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office. So, I have decided to make a Public Service Announcement.

Windows is an Operating System. Its purpose is to get your computer to function. Without it, your computer will not work. It allows you to run programs, create and maintain files etc. Versions of Windows include 3.1, NT, 95, 98, ME, 2000, XP, Vista and 7.

Recent versions of Windows come with different “Trim Levels”. XP comes in Home and Professional versions. Vista comes in Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, Ultimate and others. 7 Comes in Home Premium, Professional and Ultimate (though I am sure that there are others).

Microsoft Office is a Suite of Applications (programs). It is not part of Windows! Sometimes your computer comes with it, but it is almost always an extra-cost option. Versions of Office include 98, 97, 2002/XP (Not to be confused with Windows XP!), 2003 and 2007.

Office comes with various trim levels as well. Student & Teacher Edition and Standard Edition are essentially the same; the former is a cheaper “catch-em-while-they’re-young” version. They both have the basic Applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc). Further down the line we have SBE (Small Business Edition), Professional and Ultimate.

Now you know.

Thanks for nothing, nVidia

One of my computers, “Athena”, (an eight-year-old Dual PIII with IDE RAID), is dying. She is hobbling along on one processor and is freezing up every few days. So I am in the process of building a new computer, “Poseidon”, to replace her.

I recently purchased the following hardware:

  • Giga-Byte GA-K8NSC-939 Socket 939 motherboard.
  • Athlon 64 3000+ Processor
  • ATI Radeon X800 AGP Video Card

All worked fine. XP installed and worked cleanly, as did Windows 7 Ultimate. Running the “Windows Experience Index” (WEI) gave me a score of 3.6 – the processor was the weak link, and it was dragging everything else down.

Then I stumbled across an Athlon 64 X2 4400+ (a Dual-Core Processor) at a bargain price. One chip swap later, and everything is working happily. Or so I thought. XP ran perfectly, but when I switched to Windows 7 and tried to update the WEI, I started getting errors.

Two hours of research later, I found the problem. Apparently the Nforce3 chipset is not fully supported under Vista (which came out two years after this board was released, and was actually in beta-test at the time nForce3 was released). While it works happily enough with a single-core processor, there is a problem with Dual-core processors, Vista, and Certain ATI video cards.

This leaves me with the following choices:

  • Downgrade to a single-core processor.
  • Downgrade the video card (by swapping it with a slower nVidia card that is running in Apollo, one of my other machines).
  • Downgrade to XP and forget ever runnning Vista or Windows 7

nVidia are aware of the problem. They have been talking about fixing the problem for over two years… but talking is apparently as far as they have gotten, as they are no nearer a solution now than they were when Vista came out. Their explanation leaves much to be desired:

“NVIDIA has determined that this issue is specific to nForce3 based systems utilizing AMD Athlon X2 dual core CPU’s and running Microsoft Vista. The NVIDIA nForce3 core logic predates multi-core CPU’s and was not designed to support them. As a result this problem will not be resolved via drivers or system bios updates.”

This looks suspiciously like “It’s a hardware problem“.

That is, as they say in England, “A load of bollocks“.

  • How come that same hardware runs just fine on Windows XP?
  • How come it runs fine with nVidia’s cards but not with certain High-end ATI ones? – swapping in an nVidia Graphics card makes the problem go away. Given that ATI happens to be nVidia’s biggest competition in the Graphics card market, are you seriously trying to tell me that this is just a coincidence?
  • How is it that other chipset manufacturers (SIS and VIA, for instance), released updated drivers for Vista?
  • How is it that older chipsets than this are supported under Vista? Another of my machines – “Apollo” – uses the VIA KM400 chipset, which was released in 2003. It runs Windows 7 flawlessly.

From the evidence, I have come to the conclusion that the real reasons that this hardware was left unsupported were as follows:

  • To encourage users to migrate to boards with newer nForce (4/5/6/7) chipsets. That’s right, we want you to spend hundreds of dollars replacing your motherboard – potentially along with CPU and memory – because there is no money to be made in our fixing the problem.
  • To encourage users to abandon ATI’s graphics cards and buy… ours!

So.. that have I learned from this experience? That nVidia will not guarantee to support their hardware with the next OS that comes along.

Fortunately, I am happy with XP, will be staying with it for the foreseeable future. But with XP now two operating systems in the past (or one-and-a-half, if you count Windows 7 as the bug-fix that it really is), the writing is on the wall and it is only a matter of time before Microsoft officially mothballs the venerable old operating system by discontinuing support for it.

Fortunately, this will not be a gaming rig, so it will not be necessary to have the fastest Graphics card on it (that honor goes to mighty Zeus (yes, they’re all named after Greek gods).

In future I will be avoiding nVidia-based motherboards like the plague.

Now Reading: “The Endurance” by Caroline Alexander

Book Review: “Your Money or Your Life”, By David Cutler

I haven’t done a book review in quite a while but I just finished reading this one and I felt so strongly that I had to put down my feelings on paper.

While this book, by David M Cutler, purports to suggest how to fix the healthcare crisis in the US. It is always wise to consider the source.

In 1993 I was in Washington D.C., working on the Clinton administration’s health care reform effort. Remember the secret group of 500 people out to reform the health care system? I was one of them

Given his history, it would be easy to assume that he would push “Universal Health Care” – also known as Socialized Medicine – and he does not disappoint. While the book comes up with many good suggestions, the main thrust of the argument is strongly in favor of fixing the problem by adding more “insurance” – this time for everybody, provided by the Government.

I would counter that Insurance actually makes healthcare more expensive, but adding an extra layer of bureaucracy. I cannot speak for anyone else, but I don’t need help paying the small bills – Doctor Visits, Blood Tests etc. Removing insurance from these transactions would reduce the cost to the Doctor, as well as giving me an incentive to negotiate. What I need help with are the big bills – my one-day stay in hospital last year generated a dozen bills and came to $16,000.

Why is health care so expensive? That is an obvious question, but one that Cutler never asks in his book. Nor does he mention the effects of taxation, litigation and the free market.

Most Americans who claim to favor socialized healthcare do so because they can’t afford what is on offer (or are trying to elicit the support of those who cannot). Most have no practical experience of how it works in real life. Having been raised in Britain’s NHS (National Health Service), I have seen socialized healthcare from the inside. I have seen the waste, the incompetence and the sheer chaos that inevitably ensues when the Government is allowed to take charge of healthcare.

Yes, I am adamantly against Universal Healthcare. Why? Let me count the ways:

  • We can’t afford it.
  • Government intervention in the free market makes things worse. Why is it that the price of LASIK laser eye surgery – which is hardly ever covered by insurance – has fallen by about 80% in the last 10 years?
  • Universal Healthcare will not lower costs – yet another layer of bureaucracy and regulation will inevitably push costs up. All that it will do is change who pays the bill.
  • Any attempt to forcibly take control of healthcare will result in Doctors retiring or leaving the profession in huge numbers.
  • We can’t afford it: Yes I already mentioned it, but it was so important I thought it worth mentioning twice.

Do I have a better Idea? Actually, I have several; and they will be the subject of an upcoming blog post. And none of them involve getting somebody else to pay my bills.

Why I think global warming is bunk

You cannot open a newspaper or turn on the TV without hearing someone blathering about Global Warming. Most of this so-called news reportage is simply “lazy journalism”, in which press releases are regurgitated as fact.

This is one of the reasons that I don’t watch the news. Thomas Jefferson once said “The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but the newspapers“. The most avid news-watchers I know are also some of the most depressed people I know.

So why have I bucked the trend and rejected global waming?

  • When I was growing up back in the 70s, all of the experts were babbling about Global Cooling.
  • Geologically speaking, we are due for an Ice Age any moment now.
  • My electricity bill compares the average temperature this month with the average temperature a year ago. In the vast majority of cases, it is colder this year than last year.
  • Scientists cannot accurately forecast the weather a month from now. And yet they expect me to believe them when they tell me the temperature decades or centuries from now.
  • Even the experts cannot agree on Global Warming, which is why many of them have adopted the vaguer but more defensible “Climate Change”
  • Even if it is true, it is not necessarily a bad thing. As Jeremy Clarkson so picturesquely put it “Anything that results in  palm trees growing in London and Brussels (the Washington DC of Europe) under water is fine by me”.
  • This is a changing planet. It may get warmer, it may get colder. We are not guaranteed that tomorrow will be better than – or even the same as – today. Yes, perhaps we can do something; like stopping the Brazilians from razing the rainforest. Or getting China to burn less Fossil Fuels. Only we can’t; last time I looked, we did not run Brazil or China. That is a hard lesson for us Westerners to learn.

The bottom like is that I accept global warming as opinion – not as a fact. I will do what is reasonable to reduce my impact on the environment (recycling where possible, driving small-engined vehicles, avoiding air travel etc), but I also accept it as axiomatic that many of those who bleat loudest about the environment have no respect for it.

Now Reading: “Your Money or Your Life”, By David Cutler.

The Boston (Market) Blues

On vacation (a real short one for me – I am returning to work tomorrow) in Florida.

After church, we had a hankering for Boston Market (all of the stores back home closed some years back). When we got to the first store, there were about fifty people lined up, and the drive-thru was closed.

Huh???

What was most surprising to me was that almost everyone in the store was black; but these folks weren’t trailer-trash – most of them were exceedingly well-dressed. I looked around for a church van, but none was in evidence. So long was the line that I decided to head for another Boston Market.

Things were not much better at the second store, though this time the drive-thru was open, and the line was stretching around the parking lot and down a side street. In the store, I was intrigued to find that once again, the line was about 75% well-dressed black people; certainly not a representative mix of the local area (Clearwater), but since my heart was set on Boston Market, I got in line.The line was long, but fast-moving. Along the way to the counter I noticed that most of those in line were holding pieces of paper in their hands. On closer examination, they turned out to be coupons for $1 chicken meals.

I’ll leave the conclusions to you, dear reader.

P.S. Boston Market uses the smallest chickens I have ever seen in any fast-food restaurant.