Monday, June 22, 1998 - Haven't
heard back from my contact at the distributor about my toasted new UPS, so
I call back to arrange a swap. He tells me that they don't handle that
stuff, and that I need to contact TrippLite tech support, who will be very
interested in finding out what happened. I call TrippLite tech support -
no toll-free number, naturally - and talk to a very nice representative.
He tells me that they'll be happy to advance ship a replacement and send a
pickup tag so that I don't have to pay return shipping. The problem is, he
needs me to fax a copy of the invoice. Well, number one, my fax is
disconnected and buried somewhere in the mess that was once my office, and
number two, I haven't received a copy of the invoice yet. No problem, the
TrippLite rep assures me. He'll contact the distributor to get a copy of
the invoice. Still playing with FP98. The site structure is starting to
firm up, and it looks like this may turn into a real web site. Still much
to do, though ...
Tuesday, June 23, 1998 - An
editor emails me to ask if I'd be interested in doing a magazine article
on a Windows NT topic. I've never written for a magazine before, but the
idea sounds intriguing. Then I find that they pay only $0.25 per word for
a 2,000 word article (the going rate for high-end technical articles is
$0.50 to $1.00 per word) , and that the article needs to be submitted in
final form by June 30th in order to make the November issue. No prayer of
making that deadline. Still, there's always the December issue, and I
figure doing a magazine article or two as a loss-leader might be worth it,
if only for the exposure. Visions of becoming the next Jerry Pournelle or
John Dvorak flash through my mind. The editor has suggested a couple of
potential topics, so I email her to tell her I'm interested and start
outlining one of the topics.
In the meantime, I need to think about bringing
up a UNIX box for the MT5 book project I'm just starting. I already have a
BSD UNIX box, Kiwi, on my network, but Kiwi is really
starting to show its age - a 486/33 processor, 8 MB of 30-pin RAM, a 340
MB hard disk, and no CD-ROM. With the inroads that Linux is making in the
corporate market, it may be time for a change. I've heard good
things about Red Hat Linux,
so I call them to request an eval copy. I'm no UNIX guru, so I ask them if
they'll send me a second manual, so that my friend John Mikol can help me
set it up. They agree to do so.
I get email from the editor about the magazine
article, telling me that someone else has already been chosen to do the
article I was outlining, and suggesting another possible topic. Well, I
can always use the material I've already outlined in my next book.
Evening: I've been putting off
downloading the latest beta of MT5. This one is available only via FTP,
and it's huge. I make a 31.6 dialup connection to my ISP, connect to the
beta site with CuteFTP, and learn that the Server version is about 268 MB
- 22 12.3 MB files and one 4.3 MB file. They say the longest journey
starts with a single step, so I start the download and go to bed.
Wednesday, June 24, 1998 - when
I sit down first thing in the morning, I'm surprised to see that the
connection is still up and sucking files from the Microsoft FTP site. At
11:00 a.m. the connection drops without warning, after exactly 12 hours.
Apparently, BellSouth rigidly enforces a 12 hour time limit on
connections. Still, I've gotten about 150 MB of the 268 MB total. I'll get
the rest tonight.
It's time to get serious about this NT5 book I've
agreed to write, so I start reviewing the proposal and detailed outline
I'd done back last fall, when Microsoft was still claiming they'd ship NT5
by June, 1998. From what I've heard and read about Build 1814, they may
have a hard time shipping a final version by this time next year. I'm
hoping Build 1814 will be usable as a basis for the first draft of the
Evening: Start downloading the
remaining MT5 files.
Thursday, June 25, 1998 - Well,
it took two overnight sessions, but I finally finished downloading MT5.
There are 21 12.3 MB CAB files, a 12.4 MB EXE file, and a 4.3 MB CAB file.
After backing up the whole 268 MB to a volume on a different computer, I
run the 12.5 MB EXE. It extracts the distribution file, all 348 MB of
them, to the I386 directory.
This MT5 build doesn't support boot floppies, so
I decide the best way to proceed is to run an install across the network.
I have more than 10 GB of free disk space on my main workstation, but I
don't want to risk hosing it up. Instead, I decide to see what MT5 can do
with a minimum platform. I decide to install it to kerby, a
Gateway P4D tower with a 486 DX/2-66 processor, 40 MB of RAM, and an 850
MB hard disk. Windows NT Workstation 4.0 is installed on a 275 MB E:
partition. I use it to blow away the 275 MB C: and D: partitions, and then
partition and format the 550 MB of free disk space as an NTFS C:
partition. That ought to be enough to hold MT5.
I start Winnt32.exe from a network drive
and tell it I want to install to the C: partition. Everything seems to be
proceeding normally. After a lot of file copying, MT5 Setup changes to
graphics mode and starts the Setup Wizard. The Installing MT Security
features section of the wizard proceeds to completion, and the Installing
and configuring devices starts. About half way through, the monitor
clicks the way it does when resetting between graphics mode and text mode,
but the wizard continues to run. After the status bar almost reaches the
end, the wizard blows up to a black screen of death. It says that if this
is the first time this screen has appeared, to simply reboot. I do so, and
the whole wizard process starts again. The BSOD appears again. This isn't
One of the possible problems mentioned in the
BSOD is inadequate disk space. This might well be the problem, so I decide
to get rid of MT5 and turn kerby back into a Windows NT 4
computer. Oh boy. Windows NT 4 will no longer boot. After futzing around
for a while, I decide the quickest solution will be to reinstall Windows
NT 4 and restore from backup. No dice. Windows NT 4 setup sees the disk
and displays the partition information, but won't touch either partition.
I decide to blow away everything on the disk and start from a bare drive,
but Windows NT 4 Setup won't delete the partitions. Time for the tactical
nuke. I boot Partition Magic, expecting to use it to wipe the disk clean.
No joy. Partition Magic won't touch it either. Apparently, I now have an
850 MB disk drive that's perfectly fine physically, but inaccessible to
any program known to humanity. I'm going to have to think about this one
for a while. MT5 is definitely not going to touch my main workstation
until I figure out what's going on.
Red Hat Linux shows up in the afternoon mail, but
I don't have time to deal with it at the moment. My wife arrives home from
work and hands me a CD that a friend of mine dropped off. It has both MT5
Server and Workstation on it. I call him to thank him, and have to listen
to him giving me a hard time about my slow, pathetic dialup link versus
his cable modem. He sucked down the whole 500+ MB and burned the CD for me
last night between dinner and the kids' bed time. Geez. Our cable system
doesn't offer Internet access, but BellSouth is making noises about
rolling out ADSL. I may have to look into this high-speed access stuff.
Friday, June 26, 1998 - Although
I could probably do a minimal Linux install on Kiwi, I really
need more machine to do what I want to do. The question is, should I
upgrade Kiwi, or install Red Hat Linux on a different box.
Fishing around in the closet where old computers go to die, I come up with
a 486 DX2-80 VLB box with 32 MB of RAM, a 1 GB disk, and a 4x CD-ROM. That
should be enough to let Linux do what I want to do, so I fire up the box
and get started.
Well, the first problem is that the computer
doesn't see the hard disk. I know it was fine when I put it in the closet,
so I pop the lid and jiggle a few cables. It boots now, but I'd better put
an IDE cable replacement on my to-do list. I insert the Red Hat Linux CD
in the drive and boot from the boot floppy. Everything goes incredibly
smoothly. This is the friendliest UNIX I've ever installed. Less than half
an hour after I start, I have a boot prompt. If the rest of this OS is as
good as the installation procedure, they've made a convert. I don't think
I'll be using other UNIX versions much any more.
Haven't heard back from TrippLite yet, so I make
a follow-up call. The TrippLite rep tells me that my replacement unit
shipped yesterday from Chicago, and that it should be here on Monday or
Tuesday. We'll see.
Email from the magazine editor. The author they
offered the article to is dithering about doing it, and they want to know
if I'm still interested and can they get back to me Monday. Sure, I tell
them. Why not?
Saturday, June 27, 1998 - morning:
worked on the web site this morning. I still need to do something about
getting the latest NT5 beta installed. When it blew up installing to kerby,
it gave a cryptic error screen that mentioned several possibilities, among
them inadequate disk space. Kerby is an old Gateway 486/66 tower
that has only 40MB of RAM and an 850MB hard disk, either of which may be
causing the problem. Before I get too disgusted with NT5 Build 1814, I
need to give it more of a chance, so I'm off in search of RAM and a hard
Afternoon: Just got back from a
visit to Computer and Software Outlet (CSO), our local equivalent of
Fry's. The decor is industrial - steel shelving, OEM packaging, and all
the rest - but the prices and selection are pretty decent. I picked up a
Seagate 4.3 GB Ultra DMA disk drive for $162.00 - only $6.00 more than it
would have cost from Insight. Fast hard disk space at less than $40 a
gigabyte. That's amazing. I remember when a 5 MB hard disk cost $5,000 - a
thousand bucks per meg. Now it's about 3.8 cents a meg. The price of
memory is just as amazing. I picked up two 32 MB, 60-ns, 72-pin SIMMs for
$33.00 each - a buck a meg. I could have had EDO for $26 each, but I'm not
sure this old computer will use it. Time to pull the lid off kerby,
swap out disk drive, and add 64 MB of RAM. That'll also give me a chance
to suck out the dust rabbits for the first time in a year or more.
Before I do that, though, I decide to make one
final attempt to salvage that 850 MB drive. It's not worth much at today's
drive prices, but I'll put it on the shelf if I can salvage it. You never
know when an 850 MB IDE drive might come in handy. I suck down the latest
version of the Western Digital drive management utility from their web
site and fire it up. Using it, I'm able to do a pseudo-low-level-format.
It doesn't really LL format the drive, but it writes all zeroes to every
bit on it. The drive resets automatically and the system reboots. I can
now use Partition Magic to access the drive.
Late Afternoon: Well, there was
surprisingly little dust, the memory and disk upgrade took 15 minutes from
popping the lid to restarting the system, and everything appeared to
worked fine. When I restarted the system and started Setup, it
autodectected the hard disk as an 8 MB drive - only about 4.3 GB less than
its actual size. Well, I'll try it anyway. MT doesn't pay much attention
to the CMOS settings.
This build of MT5 doesn't install from floppy, so
the best alternative is to install NT 4 first with a big enough partition
to copy the MT5 distribution files to. I installed NTS4, which sees the
new drive as 4.0 GB rather than 4.3 GB. I can remember a time not too long
past when 300 MB was a big hard drive. Still, a measly 300 MB isn't worth
worrying about nowadays, so I continue with NT4 setup. NT4 installs
successfully on the 1 GB C: partition. I immediately copy the MT5
distribution files - all 350+ MB of them - to the C: volume. Before
continuing, I use NT4 Disk Administrator to create two 1.5 GB primary
partitions in the free space area remaining.
Now for the moment of truth. I change to the I386
folder on C: and start the MT5 install. Everything seems to
proceed normally. After several minutes of copying files, the MT5 Setup
Wizard appears. The Installing MT Security features proceeds to
completion, and the Installing and configuring devices blows up
to a black screen of death, as usual. The BSOD says that if this is the
first time it has appeared that you should try a simple reboot, which I
do. We go through the whole wizard process again, and the BSOD screen
appears again. It makes several suggestions:
- Check to be sure you have adequate disk
space - well, I have a 1.5 GB volume and a 4.3 GB drive. That
sure ought to be enough.
- If a driver is identified in the STOP
message, disable the driver ... - well, the only driver mentioned
by name is atapi.sys, and I figure I'll need that one if I
want to use the IDE drive.
- Disable BIOS caching and shadowing options
The final suggestion is to Check with your
hardware vendor for any BIOS updates, and that's where the tale of
woe begins. I've often wondered if flash BIOS updates are a crafty scheme
to sell new system boards. Most of the people I know who've tried to
update flash BIOS end up killing their system board. The main thing is to
know exactly which system board and BIOS rev you currently have before you
get started. I reboot kerby and learn that it has a Phoenix
4.04.C BIOS. The only identification I can find on the motherboard is a
sticky label, apparently applied by Gateway, that identifies it as a
BAT4IP3E. Okay, that should be enough to get started.
I check out the Gateway web site and locate the
flash BIOS upgrades. I locate one reasonable sounding upgrade file, P4D404H.EXE,
which is identified as being "BIOS version 4.04H for the
P4D machines with the GAT type motherboard (part number
MBDPCI008AAWW)". All of the other BIOS update files have
different numbering schemes, e.g. 4.04.7. Still, although "GAT"
may be a typo, I figure I'd better check. I search the Gateway web site,
and can't locate any helpful information. As a last resort, I call Gateway
tech support. After spending 20 minutes listening to really horrible rock
music, a technician finally picks up. I tell him what information I have,
and ask if this is the correct flash BIOS update. Finally, after 15
minutes of back and forth, he says that it sounds like the right one to
him. It's obvious to me that this is a first-tier tech support guy, and
he's obviously not sure of himself. He was probably selling burgers last
week and will probably be delivering pizza next week. I ask to be
put through to second-tier support. After another 20 minutes listening to
garbage rock music, Gateway's phone system disconnects me.
It's obvious that there won't be any help from that quarter, so I
decide to go ahead and install the update. It appears to install
successfully, and the system restarts showing a 4.04.H BIOS level. CMOS is
corrupt, as expected, so I enter Setup to fix things up. My first hint
that all is not right is when the BIOS won't autodetect my drive. At
first, I figure it's because the CMOS settings aren't right, so I do my
best to put them back to the settings that were originally used with the
4.04.C BIOS. Now the system won't boot at all. It gets as far as
displaying the BIOS screen, but pressing F2 to enter Setup does nothing.
At this point, it's pretty clear that I've installed a BIOS that doesn't
work with this computer. No great loss - a 486/66 - but still aggravating
Evening: Before throwing up my hands and heading out
to buy a new system board, I decide to give it one more try. I search
Yahoo! for Anigma (the name of the system board manufacturer) and 486 and
find the Micro Firmware
home page. They have exactly what I need - a rescue disk that will upgrade
the BIOS on my Anigma BAT4IP3E system board. I download the update, reset
JP35 on the system board, boot with the rescue disk, reset JP35 and
restart one more time. I'm back up. The BIOS now autodetects my hard
drive. There is joy in Mudville.
I restart the system and allow the MT5 Setup wizard to start. After
several minutes of checking, it blows up again to the same black screen.
I'm stubborn, but it's pretty obvious even to me at this point that this
486/66 is never going to run MT5. So now I have a Windows NT Server 4.0
machine with 96 MB of RAM and a 4.3 GB hard disk - not a bad thing to
have. Kerby still boots with the MT5 loader instead of the 4.0 NTLDR, so I
figure it's worth the extra effort to reinstall Windows NT 4 from scratch.
It'll be interesting to see how much performance benefit I get from 96 MB
of RAM versus the original 40 MB, and from the fast Ultra DMA disk drive.
Sunday, June 28, 1998 - Worked
on the web site this morning. It needs to be in usable form by the time Windows
NT TCP/IP Network Administration hits the bookstores, which will
supposedly be in August or September. That's not as far away as it sounds
The rest of today is dedicated to getting my
office back together so that I can start the work week productively. There
are three or four computers in here with the covers off and parts strewn
across the floor. Every horizontal surface is covered with manuals, tools,
parts, antistatic bags, etc. Once I get things back together here, I'll
work on the web site some more if there's any time left to do so.
The first thing to deal with is kerby.
I'd set the Windows NT screen saver to Blank Screen, but when I came in
this morning, I noticed that its monitor was not only blanked, but
apparently not getting a signal. When I moved the mouse, it took several
seconds for the screen to redisplay. Aha. APM Power Management is enabled
in BIOS. After several reboots trying to get into setup (Phoenix BIOS's
can be incredibly picky about exactly when pressing F2 will invoke Setup),
I get APM turned off. Although some people like it for workstations, the
last thing you want is a server going into suspend mode and powering down
Now to get all the covers back on and the
machines out of the middle of the floor and back under the desks where
Afternoon: All the computers are back in place,
although they're not all plugged together yet, let alone connected to the
network. At least the essential ones are back on line and I'll be ready to
start work tomorrow. I think I'll take the rest of the weekend off.