Monday, September 7, 1998

One of the hazards of being a writer. I forgot this was Labor Day. Barbara tells me that I need to climb up on the roof and blow out the gutters, so I guess Fall is rapidly approaching. Her parents are coming over this afternoon and we'll throw some steaks on the grill, so I guess I won't get much done today.

Evening: And I didn't. Get much done, that is. I'm spending the evening kind of watching the U. S. Open while reading a couple of Barbara Block's Robin Light mysteries. I'm not sure how much I like them. They're certainly different. Ms. Block now lives in Syracuse, formerly lived in New York City, and has a son named Larry. I wonder if she was married to Lawrence Block, who writes the Bernie Rhodenbarr and Matt Scudder mysteries.

Tuesday, September 8, 1998

Back to work on the book. Barbara is on vacation this week, and leaving Friday with her parents for a two-week bus tour of Canada. I wish I could take some time off this week, but I have a deadline to meet. I'm going to concentrate on meeting the deadline by mid-week so that we can have at least a day or two free together before she leaves. If I can't do that, I'll take the day or two, anyway. The deadline isn't really until next Tuesday, so I can simply work straight through the weekend if necessary.

Wednesday, September 9, 1998

I sent off a really rough first cut of the chapter yesterday to my agent and my editor to get their opinions. It's still fat, and still has a lot missing, with only placeholders to indicate where it goes. The chapter is about 19,000 words at this point, and I was shooting to do the whole thing in 12,500 to 15,000 words. There's some cutting as well as adding left to be done.

This is a ... in a Nutshell book, which series concentrates on information density above all. I once described Nutshell books to Tim O'Reilly as "freeze-dried technical books" and he loved it. The trouble is, being a show-off, I sometimes tend to include information just because it is there rather than because it will be useful to the readers. The key is maximum useful information density. People on the Computer Book Publishing listserve are always going on about how hard it is to write ... for Dummies books. Bull puckey. Doing a Dummies book is a matter of writing overview material in a light and entertaining style. Doing Nutshell books is a matter of shoehorning size 15 feet into size 6 wingtips, and making them fit comfortably. Which one sounds harder to you?

And now, to complicate matters further, we're talking about expanding this Nutshell book into a Definitive Guide, O'Reilly's other series. Where the Nutshell books are 450 pages or so, the DG books are two or three times that size. By doing a DG book on the same topic concurrently with the Nutshell book, I'll have the best of both worlds. The good stuff that page count constraints force me to leave out of the Nutshell book can go, in expanded form, into the DG book. I can't do all of this by myself, of course, so I'll be writing the DG book with a co-author. So, in my immense free time, I have to knock together a proposal for the DG book. I keep telling myself that being too busy is better than the alternative...

Lunchtime: The end of an era has arrived. Sloth, my original IBM XT, is dead. I purchased it new in 1986 just as the XT was being discontinued, and it's been running pretty much ever since. Still, a 12 year run isn't bad for a computer, and sloth was doing useful work (running my home automation system) right up to the end. Sloth was probably one of very few original XT's still running. It must be at least a decade since any XT-class computers were available new. Sloth will now take up residence in the basement.

I never could stand to throw things away. Every time my wife and I are watching Great Castles or something on TV and they show some priceless ancient one-of-a-kind doorstop or something, I turn to Barbara and say, "See. Eight hundred years ago that guy's wife was probably saying, 'Throw it out. We have too much junk around here as it is,' and he was saying something like, 'But, honey, we may need it some day, and it may be worth some money in a few years.'" Barbara usually tells me that we won't be around in 800 years, so the point is moot. I'm convinced that the happiest marriages are those that pair a "keeper" with a "thrower-away". Two keepers are always having to buy bigger houses to hold all the stuff, and two throwers-away are paying over and over for stuff they should have kept.

Afternoon: Barbara decided to spend today doing a thorough house cleaning, and my office is fair game. So, I've spent the last hour or two getting things cleaned up in here. The floor is visible again, although much remains to be done. She's pretty good about not mentioning the state of my office from month-to-month, so I felt obligated to cooperate this time. I'm not feeling all that well at the moment, so writing probably wouldn't have gone well anyway.

Thursday, September 10, 1998

It's Barbara's and my 15th wedding anniversary today. Fifteen years passes very quickly. She's out running around doing errands now, and we'll go out this evening to a nice restaurant for dinner. She got the house deep cleaned yesterday, and I spent a couple of hours cleaning the Augean Stables, otherwise known as my office.

Speaking of which, I used to have a boss who was prone to making internally inconsistent statements based on fractured and combined cliches. Pointing me towards a job that needed to be done quickly, he once said, "I know the Augean Stables weren't cleaned in a day." They were, of course. Cleaned in a day, that is. He couldn't figure out why I was rolling on the floor laughing, and probably still hasn't. At any rate, Barbara's happy. It's amazing how simple it is to make a woman happy. Just do the right thing.

Other than dinner, I spent most of the evening talking to Pournelle and messing around with his web site in FrontPage. The main problem is that he's using FP98 essentially as a publishing aid. He has a bunch of custom-created pages that he's been using FP98 to publish, but now he'd like to use FP to structure his web site. Using FP to full effect has a lot of advantages, but it does impose its own strictures and ways of doing things. Pournelle wants to do what he wants to do, and sometimes FP98 won't let him do it his way. I think he'll eventually decide to use FP98 full bore, but I know from experience how aggravating it can be to get there from here.

The new Search field on the home page is a direct result of messing around I did on behalf of Pournelle, who wanted to add a Search feature to his site. I added the Search bot to my home page. Reasonably enough, it requires the FP server extensions to work, so it didn't work on the local copy. I had to publish it to my real web server to test it, and decided just to leave it there. I'll probably create a separate Search page for it at some point. I can then reference that page from all other pages.

Back to work on the book...

Evening: Well, again with the best of intentions, I didn't get to what I wanted to get done. I find it difficult to write while Barbara is around the house. It's not that she interrupts me or anything. The problem is with me. I want to be with her, help her with what she's working on, and so forth.

At any rate, I was overdue for a haircut. I tend to go three months or so between visits to the barber, particularly when I have better stuff to be doing, which is almost always. Since we planned to go out to dinner for our anniversary tonight, I figured that I'd surprise her by getting my hair cut today. I told her I was off to run an errand, got my hair cut and returned to surprise her. It was worth the hour or so it cost me to see the smile on her face. That also means I won't need another one until around Thanksgiving or Christmas. Heh, heh.

I thought I was done with Windows NT TCP/IP Network Administration, but that turns out not to be the case. Robert Denn (my O'Reilly editor) mailed me this morning to say that the index was ready and that Craig and I needed to go through it before it was finalized. I have never been able to do much with a proposed index. It's certainly no problem to note errors and stuff that needs to be deleted or indexed under a different or additional heading. The problem is what they want me to do--find stuff that's been left out. My mind doesn't work that way. I wonder if anyone's does. At any rate, I'll be spending a fair amount of time tomorrow trying to improve the index.

Robert also sent me a critique of the rough draft chapter, which tells me I still have lots of work to do. A finished first draft is due to him by Tuesday, so I guess I know what I'll be doing all weekend. Then, there's the proposal for the new book that I have to get done when I have a spare moment. Geez.

One of the things that became an issue during the deep-clean Barbara did yesterday is that old kerby is still sitting on the dining room table. I put it on a towel out of consideration for Barbara's antique table, but it's still there nonetheless. She asked me gently if it'd be moving any time soon, which told me I needed to do something about it.

Old kerby is a Gateway 486/66 tower box with 96MB of 72-pin RAM, and it's getting pretty slow. I was thinking about using this box as a Win98 platform. Pournelle posted something on his web site last night about buying a Pentium/133 system board with processor installed for under $100. That sounded like just the ticket for expanding old kerby. It has an AT-connector power supply and I wanted to be able to re-use that 96 MB of 72-pin memory. That pretty much limits me to Pentium class, which would have been okay. At the back of my mind, however, is that Pentium II/300 processor I have sitting on the shelf, so I decided to keep an open mind.

When I got back from my haircut, Barbara and I took off for Computer and Software Outlet. They didn't have the $100 Pentium board. As a matter of fact, they don't really carry any low-end stuff to speak of. The cheapest processor they stock is the Intel PII/300. They don't even carry the AMD K6 line. Intel doesn't make any system boards with AT power connectors any more, so I asked what else they carried. They had an EPoX system board (Taiwanese, but of decent quality) for $139. That's $50 or so cheaper than an equivalent Intel board, and all the techie-type store employees said they used the EPoX boards in their own systems and had had good experience with them.

Okay, an EPoX it is. That means, of course, that I can't re-use my 96 MB of 72-pin memory, because the Intel LX chipset (and the EX, for that matter) don't support FPM DRAM. That means I need some memory. There are only two DIMM sockets on the board, so I wanted to get one 128 MB SDRAM DIMM, but they were out of stock on those. I ended up with two 64 MB DIMMs, at $86 each. RAM is coming down in price, but it's still a lot more than it was a couple of months ago. Still, less than $1.50 per meg is wonderful relative to what it was not all that long ago.

At this point, it became clear that I was going to build a new computer around the old kerby case, so I started piling up other stuff. No need for a floppy drive or CD-ROM drive. Old kerby has both, and they work fine. The hard drive came next. They had a Seagate 4.3 GB drive for $149, which was about $9 more than Insight would have charged. It's worth it to get it right now, however, so I added one of those to the cart.

There's no built-in audio on the system board, however, so I needed a sound card. They had Soundblaster AWE64's for $62, so I went with one of those. It's ISA rather than PCI, but one can't have everything, I suppose. I could have reused the Addtron clone NE2000 10BaseT Ethernet card from old kerby, but I wanted PCI instead of ISA, and I also wanted a Fast Ethernet card in there. I found a LinkSys 10/100 PCI card for $35.

Finally, I'm running out of space for monitors, so I absolutely needed a switchbox and cables to run two or three computers to one monitor. They had what looked like a decent grade ABCD-Common VGA/Keyboard/Mouse switchbox for $18 so I grabbed one. The cables were each as expensive as the switchbox itself--$18 apiece--so I only grabbed two of them. I can buy one or two more later if I need to run more than two computers to one monitor, but that seems about right for now.

Total damage, with tax, $648.01. That's not bad for most of a new computer. With the $259 I paid for the PII/300 and the $70 for the Matrox Millennium PCI that were already sitting on the shelf, that gives me a complete Pentium II/300 system with 128MB of RAM for under a grand. I probably could have done a bit better with some shopping, but it's not worth the extra time it'd take.

This project to do a minor upgrade on old-Kerby ended up one of those "jack up the radiator cap and roll a whole new car underneath it" deals. Oh, well. Barbara deserves a new computer to replace that Pentium 133 Gateway tower she's using now, and today is our 15th wedding anniversary, so it all works out.

Friday, September 11, 1998

Very nice anniversary dinner last night. The restaraunt is called The Vineyard, and is located in one of the buildings in Reynolda Village. Reynolda Village is what used to be Richard Joshua Reynold's estate. The property originally included his mansion (which is now a museum), surrounded by formal gardens, which in turn were surrounded by a couple square miles of working farm. The farm was largely self-sufficient, with various outbuildings dedicated to such things as manufacturing dairy products, blacksmithing, veterinary care, and so forth. These outbuildings now house a variety of small shops, boutiques, and restaurants.

FrontPage98 has done it to me again. Or maybe it's Windows NT. Or maybe the two of them in combination. I'm not sure, but the old filename case problem has bitten me again.

I got an email this morning from, a commercial company that specializes in checking web sites for errors, broken links, etc. The message said they'd found a broken link in my rbtemail.html page. Specifically, I'd done thumbnails of some images to reduce download time for the page itself. The page displays Outlook_small.gif, the thumbnail of an Outlook 98 screen shot. Clicking on Outlook_small.gif is supposed to display Outlook.gif, the full size image of that thumbnail. The message said that the link to Outlook.gif was broken.

I fired up Internet Explorer and loaded that page from the local copy of the web site. Everything worked just fine. When I hit that same page on the actual web site, however, the link to Outlook.gif was indeed broken. Looking at the list of files in FP Explorer quickly uncovered the problem. The link referred to Outlook.gif, but the file showing in the file list was OUTLOOK.GIF. At some point, FP98 had changed the filename to all upper case.

Here's where things got really weird. In All Files View, I highlighted OUTLOOK.GIF and chose Rename. I renamed the file to Outlook.gif, but when I attempted to save that change, FP98 returned an obscure error message saying that it couldn't save the file. No problem, I thought. I'll just rename it in Windows NT Explorer. When I changed to that folder, however, OUTLOOK.GIF (in any case form) was gone completely. I fired up FP98 again to see if that file was still showing, and it was gone from there as well. So gone, in fact, that I couldn't retrieve it from the Recycle Bin or even from Norton Utilities for NT's Norton Protected Recycle Bin. That file was seriously gone. Fortunately, I frequently use a batch file that xcopies all my data to another network drive, so I changed to the backup drive to locate that file. It was there, but its name was outlook.gif (all lower case).

In theory, Windows NT "preserves case but is not case-sensitive." The "preserves case" part is required for POSIX compliance, and means that you should be able to name a file, say AuToExEc.BaT and have Windows NT store the filename using the exact mixture of upper and lower case that you used to name the file. The "not case sensitive" part means that the commands del autoexec.bat and del AuToExEc.BaT have exactly the same effect: they delete any file named autoexec.bat, regardless of the mixture of upper and lower case characters present in its filename. In practice, the "not case-sensitive" part works as it's supposed to, but the "preserves case" part is a joke.

My web hosting company uses Apache running on Unix servers, which is definitely a case-sensitive environment. It may be that if they were running IIS on Windows NT, this problem would not arise. It's not their fault, however. It's the fault of Windows NT and/or FP98 for scrambling case on file names. I know that I didn't do this myself. I captured the screen shot, saved the file to the FP98 content directory, and put in a pointer to the file. It all used to work perfectly, and I haven't touched the filename myself. So FP98/WinNT must have done so.

I copied the missing file from the backup volume and saved it to a trash folder, renaming it as Outlook.gif. I then copied the correctly named file to the FP98 local content directory, and it appears to have saved under the proper filename. It works fine locally, but I won't know about whether it works on the real web server until I publish this. The moral here is not to trust FP98 and WinNT with regard to moving and renaming files within a web.

Enough of this. I have to get to work on the Windows NT TCP/IP Network Administration index and then whip my chapter into shape. Once that's done, I have the proposal for the expanded DG version of the book lurking on the horizon. I've got a lot to get done, and not much time to do it, so I won't be writing much here for the next several days. I also at some point have to get the new computer built for Barbara before she gets back.

Saturday, September 12, 1998

Barbara left about 8:00 pm last night, and I worked on the book until about 1:00 this morning. I gave the dogs a quick last time out around midnight, and they were nice enough to let me sleep until 8:45 this morning, much later than the usual wet snout reminder at 7:00. With all the packing and other distractions, I never did get around to doing my weekly backup.

Meanwhile, I have the guts of a new PC sitting on the dining room table, and no time to get to it. I have to finish reviewing the draft index for Windows NT TCP/IP Network Administration by Monday, submit a chapter of the new book to meet a Tuesday deadline, and then get to work on the proposal/outline of the new new book right after that. I probably won't have time to build the new PC until next weekend at the earliest. I'm already missing Barbara, not just for herself, but for all the stuff she normally does that I have to do now. I'm not looking forward to making dinner for my mother and me. Perhaps a pizza...

Sunday, September 13, 1998

I put in a pretty full day yesterday working on the chapter, but there's still a lot more to do. I'm finding that as I get older I can't work as long at one sitting. I used to be able to pull 16- or 18-hour days at the keyboard and still be productive at the end of the session. No more. Now, about 12 hours in a day is my limit. I can sit there longer, but I don't get any more done.

Last night's dinner was a disaster. I reconsidered ordering pizza, figuring I'd save that for a week day, when I'd be busier. I don't know why that should make any difference, since I'll be working 7 days a week while Barbara is gone, but that's what I decided. Looking around for something easy to make, I discovered some frozen fish and a box of instant mashed potatoes (ugh.) I figured that not even I could screw those up. I preheated the oven to 425 degrees per the instructions and started measuring out stuff for the instant potatoes.

My first indication that all would not go right was that we didn't have any milk. No big problem, I figured. After all, what's milk but water with butterfat in it? I was supposed to use 1 1/3 cups of water and 1/2 cup milk, so I measured out 1 5/6 cups of water, planning to add a bunch of butter. Field expedient milk, or so I thought. Trouble was, I was out of butter, too. We did have some Country Morning blend in a tub, so I added a bunch of that, covered the pot, and set it on high.

I got involved getting the (overdue) weekly backup started, and when I returned to the kitchen, the pot was boiling merrily. I turned it down to low so that it'd stay hot while the fish cooked. As the countdown timer approached the end of the scheduled time for the fish, I moved the pot to a hot plate and powered down the burner. When I took the lid of the pot, I thought there wasn't much water in it, but thought I'd just misremembered. After all, having a lid on should allow the vapor to condense and prevent water loss, right?

That turned out not to be the case. I dumped in the potato flakes and it was immediately obvious that there was insufficient liquid to rehydrate them. No problem, I figured. After all, all I'd lost was some hot water. So, I filled up the HotShot with a couple cups of water and started it heating. It took a minute or two to boil the water, but when I started stirring it in, everything appeared fine. The only trouble was, I'd forgotten about the fish, which was still cooking away at 425.

So, the first dinner with Barbara gone, my mother and I had slightly crisp fish and potatoes that turned out surprisingly well, all things considered. I'm thinking now of alternating between Wendy's, Dominos Pizza, and Ronnie's takeout until Barbara gets back. The trouble is, Barbara always takes care of getting cash, and I have no idea where my cash card is. I hope my mother has a bunch of cash. Otherwise I may have to stick up a gas station or something.

At any rate, back to work on the book...


Updated: 31 May 2002 14:21

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.