Thursday, February 23, 2006


What a day!

I spent the day down in Lincoln, getting my son his driver's license back.

It all started last summer, when he was working as a delivery man. He was caught speeding. In a Construction Zone, so the fine doubles. He was given the option of paying the $400 fine, or attending a special driver safety class. Being cheap, he opted for the class.

Unfortunately, In September, he got a letter from the City, telling him he had to pay the fine, or his license would be suspended. No problem, he thought. He called the office that sent the letter, and explained that he had taken the class, giving the date. The person he talked to said he would take care of it.

In December, he was driving home from the bowling center in his girlfriend's car. This car had been in an accident, and the front bumper had been replaced with a bumper that had no place to attach a license plate. So she had been driving around for over a year with the front plate on the dash, ion the front window. But that night, a cop decided it really should be on the bumper.

My son was his usual polite self talking to the officer. He said they would buy a plate-holder in the morning and affix the plate properly. Then the cop dropped the bombshell. "Did you know your license was suspended?" The cop kept the license (of course), my son was in shock, and his girlfriend had to drive the rest of the way home. They bought a plate-holder the next morning, and fixed the plate, thus avoiding any fine for that. Then my son tried calling the city, but it was the holiday season, and of course, the person he needed to talk to was out until January. He finally was able to talk to that individual, who explained that his name wasn't on file as having taken the class, so he had to pay the fine before he could get his license back. Of course, the next day was his court date on the charge of driving on a suspended license.

He explained his situation to the judge, and asked for a little more time to get it all straightened out. The judge took pity on him, and gave him a full 60 days to take care of things. So two weeks later, my son paid the fine. They told him there that to get his license back, he would have to go to the state department of motor vehicles, and pay an additional $50 there to get his license back.

So today, two weeks later, I was able to get away from the office for a day, and I took him down to Lincoln. We found the state DMV office, and and went in. Fortunately, they have this step down to a science. The clerk took the paperwork from my son, ran it against his computer records, took our money, and a little while later came back with my son's drivers license.

He hadn't been behind the wheel of a car in nearly two months, and he was so thrilled to be able to drive again that he asked if he could drive home. So I got to kick back and watch the scenery for an hour this afternoon instead of fighting traffic myself.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Pinewood Derby!

Anyone who has ever been a Cub Scout knows the Pinewood Derby. Kids take a block of wood roughly two inches square, by eight inches long, and carve it into a race car. They race them on a special track. Each Cub Scout Pack has its own Derby, and the winners go onto higher levels. Today, my grandson won his "division" (Bear Cubs) in his Pack's race, so he gets to go on to the District Finals in April. If you ever want to see a thrilled nine-year-old, watch him win a Pinewood Derby.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

"UnAmerican Activities"

A tongue-in-cheek title for what may become a recurring series: the things that some people do that just strike me as wrong.

I work on an Air Force Base. One thing that occurs every day at 4:30PM is Retreat; the lowering of the US flag. During this time, they first play the trumpet call, then they play the national anthem. As a sign of respect, service members outside at the time stop what they are doing, come to attention, and render a salute to the flag as it is lowered. Civilians come to attention and place a hand over their heart. Drivers in their cars stop, and sit at attention until the music is finished. Those who haven't worked in a military environment before may be unfamiliar with this, but it is briefed to all personnel when they come to work on the base. It is also reinforced periodically via articles in the base newspaper, and notices via our internal network.

Today, after work, I got to my car in the parking lot a little before 4:30, and started to leave. It was cold, and snowing, so of course I had my car windows all rolled up. But I knew what time it was. As I got to the exit to the parking lot, I thought I heard the trumpet call. I looked back over the lot, and sure enough, I saw people coming to a stop and rendering respect to the flag. So I stopped my car, cracked the window a little so I could hear, and sat. In the middle of the national anthem, two cars pulled up behind me, and then pulled around me and continued on down the street.

I know who at least one of them was, and I intend to give him a tongue-lashing tomorrow. Is it really that hard to pause for a moment and pay our respects to our country and its flag?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Civ4 On Linux!

Transgaming just released a new version of Cedega (5.1) that is supposed to run Civilization IV!

"On February 15, 2006 TransGaming put forth the latest Cedega release, 5.1, codenamed "Marlin". Cedega 5.1 is jam packed with exciting new features, fixes and games. Support for three recently released blockbuster titles; Sid Meier's Civilization(R) IV, FIFA(R) 06 and Need for Speed(TM): Most Wanted have been added to the Cedega repertoire."

Monday, February 13, 2006

Why Linux? (Part 3 - Conclusion)

Eventually, I upgraded to Windows Me. For some reason, I didn't have the troubles so many others were claiming. It ran fast, and clean for me. At least as stable as Win98. But it meant yet another minor tweak in the human interface "standard". Meanwhile, I installed Mandrake 6 as a dual-boot system. The GUI looked interesting, but compared to Windows, seemed unfinished. Still the command line was useful. Better than DOS.

About 2001, I rebuilt three machines (mine, my wife's and my daughter's). My then son-in-law provided a copy of Windows 2000 Pro, and Office 2000, which I installed on all three machines. This was a solid, stable release. It gave me less trouble than any other version of Windows I had used. But also at this time, I switched from dial-up to a broadband internet connection, and I began to be concerned about viruses and spyware. I was still sold on Windows, but the cost of regular system upgrades, and the headaches of securing the systems were beginning to take a toll on me.

I tried cygwin as a command window alternative, and was pleased with the more powerful shell, compared to DOS. I downloaded Mandrake 9.1 and installed it as dual-boot. Much better, but still not enough to make me switch. I started reading more about Microsoft's marketing tactics, and decided to look more seriously at alternatives. I still used Win2K, and Outlook for my mail, but I tried Opera as a web browser, and ended up purchasing a full license for it. I upgraded my Mandrake to version 9.2, and kept switching back to Windows to get anything important done.

I also had settled into a regular routine. Every six months, I would completely reformat and reinstall the Windows partitions on the systems in my house. It was the only way to keep them fully functional. Meanwhile, I started frequenting Linux sites, and read the infamous Halloween Memos out of Microsoft. When Windows XP was released, with its built in spyware (e.g., "phoning home" to tattle if you change your hardware), I resolved I would not spend my money to upgrade to it.

I downloaded Mandrake 10.0, and thought, "this might be it." KDE 3 seemed about as good as Windows. The application suite was there. I used it strictly for two weeks. It felt good. But ... Windows was still my comfort zone. If nothing else, I could only play Civilization III in Windows. Firaxis didn't make a Linux version. And every time I booted to Windows, I seemed to stay there longer.

Then, in April 2004, My Windows installation was starting to act up. It was due for another reformat and reinstall. SO I saved everything off, inserted my Win2K CD, and rebooted. The install chugged along, and I clicked all the usual buttons, and finally it told me to remove the CD and reboot. And I was left with a screen that said "NO SYSTEM". I was in shock. I re-did the installation, with the same result. I had now been without my computer for nearly two days. I thought "this is ridiculous!" I knew that Mandrake could install a complete system, including apps, in about half an hour. So I left my "Windows" partition alone, and did a reinstall of Mandrake 10.0. I decided if I ever figured out what the problem was, I could reinstall Windows at a later date. But right now, I just wanted to get online, to check my email, and help moderate the CFC forums.

After a month or so, using Opera-Linux and Konqueror to browse the web, Kontact/KMail to read my email, and OpenOffice to handle my office needs, I realized: I don't need Windows! KDE 3.2 was every bit as good as, even better than, the Windows desktop. I had access to all the things that the OS did, but in a *safe* fashion: "su". I had no virus worries. I had no spyware worries. Computing was fun again!

Since then, I have downloaded Cedega from, which enables me to play Civ3 on my Linux box. I have upgraded my system to Mandrake 10.2, and then Mandriva 2005 Limited Edition (Mandrake 10.2), and now Mandriva 2006.0. I have deleted the Windows partition from my system, as I never expect to dual-boot again. I haven't found anything I can't do in Linux that I used to do in Windows. I am once again a happy camper with my computer.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Why Linux? (Part Two)

Why was I concerned about IBM and Microsoft getting into the home computer business? At the time, I was, admittedly, more concerned about IBM. Up until then, those of us who bought home computers were, unapologetically, geeks. We enjoyed being on the cutting edge of new technology. Even though we talked about commoditizing them, there was an ego thing going on; we were the first implementers.

When the IBM PC was first introduced, it used stable, tried and true technology, not cutting edge stuff. And of course, there was the unspoken thought, "If it's not IBM, it's not a computer." That was particularly infuriating to those of us who had been using home computers for years, already, and doing things that were clearly unable to be done with the IBM PC. Many computers already had graphical interfaces, and virtually all of them had a better OS than PC-DOS (IBM's branded MS-DOS). But IBM had something the smaller companies didn't: a top-quality marketing team.

About this time, I had my first exposure to UNIX. DoD decided to implement UNIX workstations as the end-user terminal systems to our mainframe. Of course, nobody at our headquarters could even spell UNIX, so I volunteered to be "point". I explored the systems, learned how to use their built-in security features, and wrote a set of scripts to assist other administrators in installing and setting up their systems. These were adopted by the integrationcontractor, and distributed with the systems throughout the world. This was what I had been missing: solving a problem, and then sharing the results with anyone who wanted it, with no expectation of recompense.

I used UNIX for several years, at work, until I moved on to a different job in 1993. In my new job, we used PCs running Windows as terminals, and to connect to the net for inter-base communication. By this time I had come to accept the logic of having a standard system, even if it was imposed by a vendor. Still, it wasn't until the release of Windows 95 that I thought the PC had reached the level of sophistication we had enjoyed in the mid-80s.

During this time I still used my beloved Atari at home. It had a good word processor, and plenty of good games. I couldn't see forking over the money for a PC-clone. Then I got sent to Italy and Bosnia for two years, as a final "gift" from the Air Force. When I got back, my wife had bought a small 486-based system, because she needed some programs that weren't available for the Atari, and I wasn't home to write them for her.

So I joined the ranks of the "average" users. I had been writing programs to MS specs for several years, now, and could appreciate having a standard set of human interface specs. But I was starting to notice something. In Windows 3.1 the spec was such and such. Then in Windows 95, it was changed a bit. Then in Windows 98, it was changed again. I was starting to get a bit frustrated.

In 1998 I also stumbled across an early copy of Mandrake Linux. I remembered the fun I had with UNIX years before, so I installed it as a dual boot, to see what it was like. It was a struggle getting anything but a command-line interface, so I located a copy of Red Hat, and gave it a try. Even worse. No matter. It was an interesting experience, and I learned quite a bit.

Meanwhile, I had started with hardware upgrades, and was building my own computer. Like most people back then, I didn't bother tobuy a new copy of Windows for every machine. I already had a CD with Win 98 Upgrade, and I had Windows 3.1 on floppy to upgrade from. I had bought them, so who should care if I put them on more than one machine?

Why Linux? (Part One)

I am often asked, "Why do you use Linux?" My usual, flippant answer is, "Why not?" But in this post, I will explore my own reasonings for making the switch to Linux.

Many ages ago, There was no such thing as a Home, or Personal, Computer. A computer meant a Mainframe, or, if you were able to function with a smaller system, a Mini. These computers filled whole rooms of the commercial buildings they were housed in, and were tended to by an elite priesthood that could speak the language of that computer, and make it do their bidding. Gradually, the secrets of the priesthood began to leak, and spread, as the power of these systems became more available to more businesses.

One of the first secrets to leak was the language used by the computers. Originally, this "machine language" was unique to each computer, but as more and more were built, it became obvious that it was more cost-effective for each manufacturer to use the same (or at least, similar) machine language for each system they built. Now, they no longer had to remember esoteric codes made of ones and zeros, but could create human-readable instructions that any of their computers could translate, and run. Thus, IBM had their Basic Assembly Language (BAL), Honeywell had the General Macro Assembler Program (GMAP), etc. Now, and IBM programmer, for instance, could write a BAL program, assemble it, and run it on any IBM mainframe.

But Assembly languages were just direct correlations between machine code and human readable instruction sets. A significant improvement, yes, but how do you express business rules in machine language? How can you write scientific algorithms when it can take pages of Assembly code to do one small part? "Higher level" languages were needed. But to be most useful, a program written for, say, IBM, should be able to be recompiled and run on a Honeywell, or a Burroughs, without needing major re-writing. So the major computer makers, and their customers, got together in different groups over time, and hammered out some language specifications they thought would serve their needs. And in a spirit of cooperation, they made these specifications "standards", so that the engineers knew that if they followed the standards, their program would run on any machine that also followed the standards, whatever the underlying machine code looked like.

The first computer language I learned, back in the mid 1970s, was one of these: FORTRAN IV. My programs were written to run on an IMB 360, but years later, I compiled and ran one of them on a Honeywell 68000, just for grins. It worked perfectly. Shortly after learning FORTRAN, I learned a new language making the rounds, The Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code (BASIC). This was another standardized language, with every vendor holding to the standard implementation. Sure, many vendors provided "extensions" to the language, to make it run even better on their hardware, but a programmer always knew that if he stuck to the standard instruction set, his code would run on any computer that supported the language.

Eventually, I graduated from College and received a commission in the USAF. About the same time, a new idea was starting to spread around the country: Home Computers. Largely the result of the miniaturization efforts of the space program, simple computers could be made that no longer needed racks of vacuum tubes, and rooms of specially cooled and conditioned air. For about the price of a new car, you could actually buy one that would fit on your desk!

Prices quickly started to come down, and in 1980, I bought an Atari 400, with 32K of RAM. This machine had a flat panel for a keyboard, and used your television set as a monitor. I soon purchased a second-hand Atari 800, with 48K of RAM, and a regular, full-sized keyboard. With these, I happily banged away, writing Basic programs (mostly simple games), and learning about the ways computers worked, even writing my own 6803C Assembler In all of this, I was assisted by a community of other programmers, freely giving their advice, and dispensing their knowledge, via books, magazines, and Bulleting Boards accessed by a 300 Baud modem.

In addition to Atari, Commodore was selling home computers (most notably the C-64), Radio Shack had the TRS-80, Texas Instruments had one, and many other companies joined in, as well. We all played happily together, learning about these marvels, and sharing our knowledge. Even Apple played along, with its Apple ][ systems. Then, one day, IBM and Microsoft introduced the IBM Personal Computer.

My initial, gut reaction was, "There goes the neighborhood."

Friday, February 10, 2006

Welcome To My Blog

What can I say? Every new blog has to have a welcome message in it.

Some of you may know me as the moderator of the Civ3 forums at the Civilization Fanatics Center. Others may know me as a poster on, or Others may know my brother Mike's Ramblings page. Or many of you may not know me at all!

Be that as it may, You will probably come to know me all too well over the coming wekks and months.