A (mostly) daily journal of the trials, tribulations, and random observations of Robert Bruce Thompson, a writer of computer books.
Got the Cat 5 unshielded twisted pair cabling for Barbara's office run and terminated yesterday afternoon. Getting the faceplates popped off and the cable run and stapled took only 15 minutes. Getting the Cat 5 connectors installed and faceplates back in place took only another 15 minutes or so. I used modular connectors from ICC, which allow one to use a standard 110 punch-down tool to secure the individual wires. That makes life a lot easier, because there's not a lot of room for slack with Cat 5 stuff. The connectors say not to untwist the pairs more than 1/2", but I try to stick to 1/4" to 3/8". Anything more risks losing the Cat 5 characteristics of the cable.
Once I got things finished up, I carted the new box back to Barbara's office and reconnected it to the network to make sure the new run worked properly. It did. Now I have to decide whether to rebuild Barbara's desktop on the existing Win98 hard drive in the new box, or to attempt a brain transplant by moving the hard disk from thoth into the new box. My friend Robin Weiner is coming over tomorrow to help me do whichever I decide.
Last night, I read the latest Robert B. Parker, Trouble in Paradise. This one's the second in his new series. The lead character, Jesse Stone, is the police chief of Paradise, Massachusetts. If you like the tough-guy Spenser novels, you'll probably like this one as well. I can't figure out why I continue to read Parker. He's another of those authors who write the same book over and over. Stone differs from Spenser only in a few particulars. Otherwise, it's just a continuation of the Spenser series. I also started Everybody Dies, the new Matt Scudder novel by Lawrence Block. If you like hard-boiled detective fiction, try reading Block, who I think is a considerably better writer than Parker. Block also does the delightful The Burglar Who ... series whose main character is Bernie Rhodenbarr, a "reformed" burglar and bookstore owner.
Late afternoon: the mail showed up about 4:00, which is pretty usual for a Monday when there's a replacement guy on. One of the items in today's mail was a royalty statement from O'Reilly and Associates for my Windows NT Server 4.0 for NetWare Administrators book. The book hit print in mid-November, 1997, and the current royalty statement covers Q2 (April through June). The book "earned out" sometime in Q2, which means that the accrued royalties finally exceeded the advance that O'Reilly paid me to write the book. From now on (well, actually, from May or whenever on), I earn a buck and change each time someone buys a copy of the book.
Someone once observed that writers have to be gamblers with a long-term outlook, and I suppose that's true. It can easily be a year or two from the time you start writing a book until you find out whether that book is going to pay off at all or just sink without a trace. It looks like this book may actually yield at least some pay back for the effort I put into it.
Barbara's heading straight from work to the Dixie Classic Fair, which means I have to rustle up some dinner for my mother and me. It looks like sandwiches again tonight. Then, since she'll probably not be home until 9:00 or thereabouts, I can put in a couple or three more hours of work on the new book. I've managed to do a couple thousands words today, which isn't bad. I'd like to get to 3,000+ words for the day, though.
I didn't get to my 3,000 word goal yesterday on the new book, but I got to about 2,500, and that's not bad. Today I plan to spend whatever time it takes to get Barbara's system upgraded. Right now, she's running on thoth, a Gateway Pentium/133 tower with 64 MB RAM and a 3.1 GB hard disk. I want to get her moved over onto the new PII/300 box by relocating the hard disk currently in thoth into the new box. That'll make the new box new thoth, and allow me to relocate old thoth to my office, where it'll be a Windows 98 and Windows NT Workstation client testbed system.
And speaking of which...
From a reader 10/6/98, in response to some stuff I'd written about moving the hard disk from my wife's current NT box to the new box, and getting my friend Robin Weiner to come over and help:
Yeah, and at the end, she'd better exclaim "It's alive!" or I'm in deep caca. Barbara's system is supposed to be inviolable. That's why it's my main network data store and has the tape drive I use for network backups. At the end of the day, it'd better have exactly what it used to have or else.
Actually, what I was thinking about doing was (a) blowing away the entire contents of the 4.3 GB hard disk in the new (Win98) box, (b) installing that hard drive in Barbara's NT box (thoth), (c) creating a new NTFS partition to match the 3.1 GB partition on thoth, (d) using NT Server mirroring to replicate Barbara's existing partition to the new drive, (e) breaking the mirror, and (f) removing the hard drive and putting it on the shelf.
That way, if putting thoth's old 3.1 GB drive in the new box ends up scrambling the NT system disk, I can just put the 4.3 GB drive back in thoth and start again.
I must confess that I've not tried doing this. Perhaps I'll give it a shot, but I still think I may do the mirror first to replicate her current drive.
Yeah, me neither. And of course, she'd then be running Windows 98 rather than Windows NT, and I don't think much of the stability and robustness of Windows 9x.
Don't I wish.
No, actually I'm completely serious. I think the specs allow a maximum of 3/8" of sheath to be removed and the individual pairs untwisted. Anything more than that destroys the near-end-crosstalk (NEXT) and power-sum-crosstalk (PSXT) characteristics of the cable, and it's no longer really Cat 5. I ended up with about 1/4" of sheath missing and the same amount of untwist on the finished connectors.
Although you jest, I've never been really comfortable with the webmaster moniker. I used it because it's conventional (and because it supposedly helps avoid spam, which it's done so far). I was going to use "email@example.com" but, although honest, it looked stupid.
I suppose I'd better get dressed and get a pot of coffee on. Robin said she'd show up around noon, so it'd be nice to be ready to go by the time she gets here. I think I'll power down thoth and get the new hard disk installed. I did a complete backup on Saturday, which should serve. I'll do my usual xcopy backup of all the data on thoth to sherlock, backup the registry on thoth, and get started.
I spent all day and all evening yesterday getting the new PII/300 box set up. The gory details are available in Finishing the New Pentium II Box and Extending the UTP Ethernet. I didn't end up exactly where I wanted to be, and I certainly took several unplanned detours on the way to the final destination, but things are working fine. At this point, the new box is temporarily named sophocles, and is a Windows NT Backup Domain Controller (BDC) on the TTGNET domain, where thoth is the PDC.
thoth still resides unchanged in Barbara's office. sophocles is now now sitting with the lid off in my office, but connected to the network and running. What I'll eventually do is install all of Barbara's applications on sophocles, migrate the data from thoth, promote sophocles to the PDC for the TTGNET domain (which automatically downgrades thoth to a BDC), shutdown thoth, and, finally, move sophocles to Barbara's office and rename it thoth. At that point, the old thoth (which will still think it's thoth) will end up in my office but not connected to the network, pending a downgrade from NT to Windows 98 under a new computer name. I'll have to get all this done before this weekend, because the old thoth box has my tape drive in it.
Mid-afternoon: well, the morning and half the afternoon have been burned by various things, including some finish work on the new box, updating some pages on this site, and so on. I never get a lot done on Wednesday mornings, when Barbara is cleaning house. She's working tonight, so I'll make sandwiches for my mom and me for dinner, and get some work done on the new book the remainder of the afternoon and this evening.
I couldn't resist checking the Amazon.com ranking for Windows NT TCP/IP Network Administration. It's sitting at about 3,200 right now. In the last couple of weeks, it's been as high as 400 or so, and has never dropped lower than about 8,000. It's due to hit the warehouses a week from yesterday, so it'll be interesting to see how it starts. The Amazon.com ranking is completely based on pre-orders, so it appears that the book may get off to a very strong start. I certainly hope so.
Yesterday was, to steal a phrase from Pournelle, devoured by locusts, most of them from Redmond. I had sophocles built and Windows NT installed, but nothing else. I started by installing Service Pack 3, a necessary precursor to doing almost anything else nowadays. That done, I installed Internet Explorer 4.01 and got the box setup to access the Internet via my WinGate proxy server. With that working, I installed Internet Explorer 4 Service Pack 1, which went fine. I then installed Outlook 98, again with apparently normal results.
With sophocles now at a base starting point, the next step was to install Office 97. I planned to use the copy that's installed on thoth now, and remove it from thoth once I get it working on sophocles. I loaded the CD, spent some time customizing what was to be installed and started the install. It completed normally. The next step was to install Office 97 Service Pack 1. Office 97 Service Pack 2 is now available, but it requires SP1 to be installed first. And SP2 is unreliable right now anyway, so I planned to just install SP1 and leave it at that. SP1 won't install, perhaps because I'd already installed Outlook 98. Who knows? Probably someone in Redmond, but they're not telling.
As it turns out, I think I'm going to uninstall this copy of Office anyway. Apparently I picked up the wrong CD, because thoth has Access 97 installed, and this Small Business Edition CD doesn't include Access.
Read Death and Restoration by Iain Pears last night. Pears is probably best known for his large historical novel An Instance of the Fingerpost, but I much prefer his series of mysteries with art-dealer-turned-professor Jonathon Argyll and Flavia di Stefano, Argyll's fiancée and a detective on Rome's Art Theft Squad.
Got a fair amount done on the book yesterday. I'm working on three chapters simultaneously, which seems to be working out okay. I spent a couple of hours helping Pournelle get his mail handling automated, on the theory that I don't want any co-author of mine distracted by routine stuff like getting a hundred or more mail messages a day that require individual attention.
I started reading Murder in Macedon last night. It's a historical novel about Philip of Macedon, his ex-wife Olympias, and their son Alexander, who would become known to history as Alexander the Great. The pseudonymous author is Anna Apostolu, who is described as "a critically acclaimed author of historical mysteries." The author is harder on Philip than I think is justified and, like most authors, gives Alexander more credit than I believe he deserves. Although I'm in a minority, I've always thought that the father was the brilliant one and the son simply rode his coattails. Philip set up the row of dominos, and Alexander just tipped the first one over. From there, the preparations made by Philip pretty much pre-ordained what was likely to happen, so the successes attributed to Alexander were in large part really those of his father. I have no doubt that Alexander himself was a tactically competent general (say, good division leader material), but nothing I've read of him leads me to believe that he was in the same class tactically as a Rommel or Patton, let alone strategically as a Julius Caesar, Ghengis Khan, or Napoleon Bonaparte.
I also spent a little time looking into backup generators. Each time winter approaches, Barbara and I talk about buying one, and we never do. Our power seldom goes out for any extended period, but when it does it's a Dusie. We typically have one or two ice storms every winter, and some of them do a real job on the power lines. A couple of winters ago, we were without power for four days, and were lucky at that. Some people nearby were without power for almost two weeks.
During that outage we went through our woodpile almost completely, and were seriously considering which furniture we could do without. We ended up installing natural gas logs in the upstairs fireplace, leaving the downstairs one as a woodburner just in case the natural gas failed too. I know, I'm paranoid. The gas logs upstairs put out something like 100,000 BTUs at full power, which is enough to heat the entire house if we can get the air circulating. We have a gas hot water heater and a Coleman stove, so we can now get along without too much inconvenience when the power is off for extended periods.
However, at least until someone comes up with a natural gas powered PC, what I can't do is work during an outage. Also, we now have a full size freezer downstairs that may contain anything up to $1,500 worth of meat. So, it makes sense to get a generator. I looked at some on the web yesterday, and was shocked at the prices. I figured I'd go for something mid-range, like a 5 or 8 kW Honda. Ideally, I wanted one that would run on gasoline, LPG, or natural gas. What I found was that generators like that started around $2,500 and went rapidly up from there. I'd thought I could get one like that (without electric start and all the gew-gaws) for perhaps $1,000 or a little less. Sticker shock. Still, I can't afford to be unable to work for days at a time, so buying a generator is a necessary and usual business expense for me.
I called Barbara at her library and asked her to track down a Consumer Reports article or something similar. She came back with a couple of articles that had some very useful information in them. I think I'm going to look into Generac. They appear to be a pretty good brand name that uses good engines and costs substantially less than Honda. For example, they have one model that provides 5,500 watts continuous (6,875 watts surge) that runs $1,170 list price and substantially less after discounting. The similar Honda model is rated at 5,000/5,500 watts, and has a sticker price more than twice as high. I know Honda makes good stuff, but that's ridiculous.
I called my friend John Mikol, who bought a generator a couple of years ago, and got some advice from him. He says that Home Depot and Lowes both carry the Generac units, so I think Barbara and I will head over there tomorrow morning and do some price shopping. The generator is only part of the issue. Unless I want extension cords running all over the place, I need to wire the generator into the home wiring. That means buying a $500 transfer switch (which is really just a big DPDT switch) and paying an electrician to connect it all up. Then there's the question of mounting. I don't think I want the thing on wheels. I think I want it on the concrete pad out back, which means putting up some sort of enclosure to protect it from the weather. This is not going to be a trivial project.
Windows NT TCP/IP Network Administration is due to hit the warehouses the middle of next week, and I'm hoping it gets off to a big start. I keep checking its ranking on Amazon.com. I can't help myself. Kind of like cheering one's kid on at the little league game, I guess. Talk about triumph and disaster as imposters. At one point yesterday, the book had dropped to 500,000 plus! "Ohmigod," I thought, "I knew this was too good to be true. It's died an early death." An hour later I checked again, and it was up to 3,078. Looking at it logically, it's obvious that the 500,000+ number means I caught them in the middle of a sort for an update or something. But at a gut level, seeing a number that low is a real bummer.
At any rate, back to work on the new book.
I got to thinking about what I'd said about Philip and Alexander. Sometimes I sound more sure of myself than I am, so I decided to ask the opinion of a military historian. The nearest one to hand was Jerry Pournelle, so I mailed him, saying "I posted the following to my Day Notes journal today, and then got to wondering if I'm full of crap. What do you think?" Pournelle responded as follows:
I stand corrected. The book Jerry mentions sounds vaguely familiar. I read it or something very much like it years ago. I searched Amazon.com (my new book's rank was 1,867, heh.) but couldn't locate a similar title by Fletcher Pratt. I did locate one on codes by that author that I believe I've read. I then searched for "battles that changed" and found a couple of hits, but nothing that seemed to match.
And I notice that Pournelle has done much more than simply post my note and his reply. He's written an essay in response, and I learned a lot by reading it. He brings up the issue of individual greatness and Political Correctness early in the essay, to which I responded:
Today is devoted to chores around the house--doing laundry, cleaning out the gutters, etc. I hope to have a chance later to do some work on the book. I'd like to get one of the chapters I'm working on finished up by tomorrow, although it'll probably be Tuesday. I did a full network backup yesterday afternoon, and may take the time to migrate Barbara's stuff onto the new machine this afternoon or tomorrow. This'll depend on her schedule, because I definitely want her to be here while I'm doing it.
I was running out of books, so I called Barbara yesterday and asked her to see what she could find. She surprised me with half a dozen books that were all about authors one way or another. Authors murdered, authors murdering, authors writing, authors trying to avoid writing, and so on. I read Write Murder Down by Richard Lockridge last night. I'd never heard of him, and so was surprised to see in the front of the book a list of 50 or so other books he'd written. This one was written 25 years ago and is a pretty standard formula mystery.
That was a pretty small one, so after I'd munched it I started on Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley. This book, written in 1917 and set in 1915, centers around a wagon called Parnassus, which is a mobile bookstore. I've only gotten 20 pages or so into it, but it looks to be delightful. Morley wrote a second novel in this series, named The Haunted Bookshop, which is also sitting in my to-be-read stack.
I spent yesterday evening moving computers around to get Barbara's new machine in place and working. The description is a bit long to include here, so I created a separate page, Juggling Windows NT Servers. I'll probably also format this document as a "Special Report" and send it to Pournelle to post on his web site.
Read another Steven King last night that Barbara had brought me. I can understand why the guy is popular, but I don't think I'll read any more of his books. His plots all seem to have a supernatural element that is not in accord with my world view. It's just too hard for me to suspend my disbelief adequately to enjoy King's books. He's a decent writer, but I just can't get past his plots.
Dean Koontz takes a different approach. On the face of it, a Koontz dog with a human-level IQ may seem as unlikely as a King ghost, but Koontz at least makes an effort to provide a credible explanation (genetic engineering in the dog's case). When I read Koontz, I enjoy the story. When I read King, I find myself thinking "this is ridiculous" too frequently.
Now to finish doing the laundry. I also promised Barbara I'd help her get her Canada pictures sorted out and posted on her page. This evening, maybe.
Coming Soon (I hope)
Updated: 05 July 2002 08:20
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.