A (mostly) daily journal of the
trials, tribulations, and random observations of Robert Bruce Thompson, a
writer of computer books.
November 9, 1998
We're still cruising on the new project. It was supposed
to be a 50 to 100 page technical paper in 12 sections. We've completed the
first drafts on the first three sections so far, and they're 16 pages, 68
pages, and 28 pages. We've done a quarter of the sections, and we're
already 12 pages past the maximum size we agreed to write. No wonder this
isn't going as fast as we'd hoped.
In addition to everything else going on, we're preparing
for Barbara to go into business for herself. She's been a librarian for
more than 20 years now, and has decided to resign effective 12/31/98 and
begin working as an independent research consultant. There are about a
million details to deal with--everything from buying individual health
insurance coverage for us now that we'll no longer be covered by her
policy at work to getting telephone numbers arranged to getting business
cards printed. The next few months will be an exciting time.
November 10, 1998
Got another section done yesterday on the new project.
Things are starting to move along a bit better now. We're almost half way
through the first draft. We should finish the first draft in another week
or so. After that, there'll be another week or so of incorporating
feedback, So, that takes us pretty much through Thanksgiving. I'd better
get back to work on it now. I hope to knock out another section today,
although that's probably optimistic.
November 11, 1998
The march continues. I got most of another section done
yesterday on the new project, and have my co-author's part of yet another
section waiting in my inbox. One thing I didn't think about when I took on
this project was the effect it would have on my web page. There's a double
whammy here: not only do I not have time to write much, but I don't have
time to work on the stuff that's the raw material for what I write about.
I got to thinking the other day that I'm likely to lose quite a few of my
regular readers. I mean, I wouldn't continue to visit a place that didn't
have much new content, so I can hardly expect my readers to do so. For
those of you who continue to visit my page, thanks. For those who are
getting bored, I promise that there'll be lots of new hardware-oriented
stuff coming up once I get through this project. Thanks for bearing with
One bright spot. My newest book, Windows
NT TCP/IP Network Administration, is apparently selling quite well.
It's number seven on the Computer Literacy bestsellers list for new
arrivals, and seems to be doing well elsewhere too. It's been sitting in
the 400 range on Amazon.com for a couple of days, and during the last
couple weeks has been as high as 159 and has probably averaged about
1,000. That's good for any book, and particularly good for one that has
only been available since mid-October. If you want to buy a copy, you can
get it directly from Amazon.com by clicking here.
That helps me twice. Once because another copy of my book sells, and again
because I get a small kickback from Amazon from direct purchases from this
link. I don't get rich on the kickbacks--they totaled $16.72 last
quarter--but they do help to pay the costs of keeping this site up.
November 12, 1998
More of the same yesterday. Sometimes I feel like we're
not making any progress at all. We work very hard and yet things keep
changing and the end of the project seems to be further away than ever.
Something has to give. I'm now 16 days into what was supposed to be a 21
day project, and the end is not in sight. I have previous commitments to
consider. Going into this project, I made it clear that three weeks was
going to be difficult to fit into my schedule. The way things look now,
this thing could run two months or more, and there's no way that I can do
One very bright spot yesterday. David Rogelberg, my agent,
called to say that we have an offer on the book that Jerry Pournelle and I
proposed. I told David that the terms the publisher offered were
acceptable to me, and that I hoped they were acceptable to Jerry. I was a
little bit concerned, because the economics of computer books and fiction
are very different. In fiction, the author typically gets a higher royalty
percentage, and that royalty is based on the list price of the book. In
computer books, the royalty percentage is lower, and it's calculated on
the net. That is, a $30 computer book actually costs the distributor
something like $15, and it's that $15 that royalties are calculated on.
So, at first glance, it looks to a fiction author as though royalties are
about one third what they are on fiction. And so they are, but that
disregards one very important factor.
A typical fiction hardback has the shelf life of a bag of
potato chips. There are exceptions for the big-name authors, of course,
but basically a new fiction hardback hits the shelves, is actively sold
for a month or so, and then gives way to the next batch of new books. It
may continue to be sold less actively for three months, or even six, but
sooner rather than later it ends up remaindered, which means the author
gets no royalties for it. Computer books, on the other hand, typically
remain as active titles for at least a year and sometimes two. They are
also often revised and sold as a new edition. In some cases, they can go
on selling through several editions over several years. In short, a
fiction book earns a lot per copy for a very short time, while a computer
book earns a little per copy for a much longer time.
At any rate, as I expected, Jerry was underwhelmed by the
terms, but he really wants to do a computer book, so it looks like we'll
be getting started on it before long.
November 13, 1998
Well, the special project has collapsed, and it's my
fault. More properly, I'm the one that kicked the struts out from under
the whole teetering structure. I went into this project with the
understanding that I was to co-author a technical white paper that was to
run from 50 to 100 pages, and that the project was to run three weeks
start to finish. I made it clear to everyone going in that committing
three weeks to a project was very difficult, given my current commitments,
but that I would commit to three weeks and no more. After getting 16 days
and about 150 pages into a 21 day, 100 page project, the client was still
making major changes and additions to the outline at the A-head level.
There was no way this project was going to be anywhere
near done at the 21-day mark--it was beginning to look more like a two
month project--and I figured I'd do better to raise the issue now than
wait until we got to day 21. I was hoping that would allow them to bring
in a replacement author to finish the project. They decided instead to
cancel the project, and told us we wouldn't be paid for the work that we'd
already done. Not a wise move on their part, but given the way they've
handled this project we had no reason to expect them to behave wisely now.
The whitepaper was a competitive analysis, and I suppose we could turn
around and sell it (with suitable modifications) to the competitor.
So, I've been working like a madman for the last 15 days
for absolutely no return. Even at middling rates for technical writing,
the hours I've put in are worth something like $10,000, which I'll end up
eating, as will my co-author and agent. I actually kind of hope the client
uses the material we did for them without paying us for it. It'd be kind
of fun to watch our agent nail them to the wall.
The good news is, this means I can get back to work
immediately on the book I was working on, which I really enjoy doing, and
on the book I'm going to do with Jerry Pournelle, assuming we can come to
an agreement on terms with the publisher. More good news is that I'll now
have time to help my wife get her business started. Still more good news
is that I'll have more time to work on this web site.
Well, it's 3:30 on Friday afternoon, which means it's time to backup the
network again. I'm very nervous about depending on Windows NT 5.0 to do
it. I like the new backup applet, but I just don't trust a beta far enough
to use it for backing up. Since the tape drive is in that box, which
currently dual boots NT5 as bastet and Win98 as anubis, and since Win98
won't recognize the tape drive, I guess that means it's time to blow away
NT5 Beta 2 and reinstall NT4, my backup software, and so forth. At least
that'll give me a chance to install Service Pack 4 to see what it adds, if
That's interesting. I stuck the Windows NT CD in the drive
and it autoran. It spent several minutes copying all the distribution
files up to the hard disk and then forced a reboot. When the OS Loader
screen came up, the default choice was Windows NT 4.0 Setup, as expected.
There was a 5 second timeout on it, but every time it timed out, it just
looped back to the OS loader screen. Perhaps because NT 5 is installed. At
any rate, I stuck in the boot floppies and restarted. That should work.
Yep. The installation seems to be proceeding normally. I
got to the point where Setup asks which partition to install NT on. The 1
GB C: volume has Windows 98 on it, and the 2 GB D: volume has NT5. The D:
volume showed up as NTFS (rather than NTFS5). I told Setup to blow away
the 2 GB NTFS partition, which it did successfully. It's formatting that
space as NTFS right now. Okay, the format completed normally, and the
normal forced reboot just occurred. Now I'll have to wait for several
minutes while it copies all the files.
As I'm sitting here waiting for the files to copy, I'm
looking at the InfoWorld that just showed up. It's dated Monday, 11/9, but
just showed up today. That's been going on for several years now, and I'm
not sure why. They used to actually arrive on the Monday cover date, but
nowadays, Wednesday is about the earliest I can hope for. At any rate,
there's a front page article about Windows problems. Reading the
continuation on Page 23, I notice that Microsoft is building in a new
mechanism that I don't much care for. Apparently, the Office 2000 beta
will run only 50 times before it blows up. The only way to unlock it at
that point is to contact Microsoft and register. According to Microsoft,
this is a way to help customers register so that they can take advantage
of updates and other Office resources. Yeah, right. I won't be using
Office 2000, that's for sure. Perhaps it's time to request an eval copy of
Corel WordPerfect for Linux and think about changing platforms.
Okay, we're in the gathering information phase of
installing the network. I've provided my name, company name, and init key.
I've named the computer bastet. Now it wants to know if I want this to be
a PDC, BDC, or Stand-Alone Server. I think I'll opt for the last.
Windows NT 4.0 installed fine, and I now have a brand new
server. The next step is to install Service Pack 4, which I have on CD.
Sticking the CD in the drive autoruns an HTML file in IE. After reading
through the release notes, I started the install. It went fine, except
that it notified when when it was complete that I needed to install some
Y2K components, specifically for IE 4.01 and some data access components.
Okay, that should be easy enough. They're on the CD, with links to click
to install them. I try doing that, but no dice. The setup program tells me
that it was unable to update all files and that I should close all
applications and try again. The only application I have open is the one
displaying the SP4 HTML page, but what the hell. I closed that, opened
Windows NT Explorer and browsed the CD. I found Y2KSETUP in the
\i386\updates folder and ran it. Even after closing Explorer and letting
Y2KSETUP run on its own, I still get the same message. I have no
applications open, so I don't know what it's talking about.
At any rate, it tells me that SP4 is installed
successfully. After the usual reboot, it's time to install Seagate
BackupExec. Oh-oh. I better check Control Panel Tape Devices first. Yup.
The Connor TR4 drive was detected, but NT never loaded the driver for it.
I loaded the driver from the original CD, and applied SP4 one more time.
Now to install Seagate BackupExec.
I have a version 6.0 eval copy that they sent me a couple
of years ago, back when BackupExec was still Arcada. I'd downloaded an
update to Seagate BackupExec 6.11 Build 184 (or was it 204? They have
both) and it worked fine. So, I decided what the heck. I'll see if they
have an even later update. They didn't, for V6.x, but they did have 7.2
updates. I don't know if my eval serial number will work with 7.2. It
worked going from Arcada 6.0 to Seagate 6.1, but who knows. I figured it
was worthwhile downloading the update to try it, so I started the
download. The trouble is, the file sizes are listed without any commas.
The 7.2 update shows as 45338556, which I parsed as being 4.5 MB. A little
big, I thought, but worth the trouble to download. When I started the
download, I noticed that the bar wasn't moving very fast. I finally went
back and looked at the file size carefully. It turns out to be 45 MB
rather than 4.5 MB. That seems excessive for a utility program.
Well, I'll let it run. I'll be a little bit disappointed
if my existing serial number doesn't work, though. This is an live eval,
not-for-resale serial number, so there's a better chance it'll work than
there is that a regular serial number would. We'll see. I'd really like to
use 7.2. I should probably call Seagate and ask for an eval if this
November 14, 1998
I let the download complete, and ended up with a 45 MB exe
file. By this time, it was about 9:00 p.m., but I decided to go ahead and
see what I could accomplish. When I ran the 45 MB file, it uncompressed to
yield individual installation sets for the entire BackupExec 7.2 product
and all its options.
I installed the main backup product only. When got to the
point where it prompted me to enter my serial number, I was a bit
concerned. In the past, the existing serial number had always been filled
in for me. I re-entered my existing serial number, which fit the matrix on
screen. When I clicked OK, Setup told me that the serial number had
already been registered. I wasn't sure what that meant, but I decided to
hope for the best and proceed. Worst case, it was going to install a
60-day eval copy.
Sure enough, what I ended up with was a 60 day eval. I'm
not crazy about using a time-limited eval to do a real network backup
with, but the only other choice would be to uninstall everything,
reinstall BackupExec 6.0 and reapply all the patches to 6.11. So, I
decided to go ahead and use the 7.2 eval, figuring I could sweet-talk
Seagate out of a live eval later. I configured it to back up all my
network volumes and the local drives, got it running and went to bed.
This morning I came in to find it had completed the backup
and verify successfully. It was very slow, however. With 6.11, I was used
to getting throughput of about 25 MB/min on network volumes and about 38
MB/min on local ones. This version gave me throughput overall of about 21
MB/min. That may be my fault, because I didn't spend much time
investigating options. Compression was on, though.
The more I think about this, the more I think I may just
revert to the 6.11 version. It does everything I need to do. It's faster
than this latest version. I have a permanent license for it. BackupExec
6.11 is more than Good Enough. That's what I'm going to do--remove 7.2 and
revert to 6.11.
Okay, I've done that and am getting ready to do my second
network backup in the last 12 hours. I better get this published.
It's about 2:00 p.m., and BackupExec 6.11 just finished the verify pass.
The backup pass went as expected. Backing up data from a network volume
yielded about 21 MB/min throughput, compared to about 38 MB/min from a
local volume. I'm still trying to figure out what the problem is.
Obviously, it must be either BackupExec, the network or Windows NT itself.
I don't think it's BackupExec or the network. If
BackupExec were incredibly inefficient at backing up network volumes, I
think I'd have heard the howls of outrage by now. As far as the network,
it's a 10BaseT Ethernet, which should yield close on 1 MB/sec actual
throughput. My hub has status lights to provide a real-time indication of
how heavily loaded the Ethernet is. There are lights for 1%, 2%, 3%, 6%,
12%, 25%, 50%, and 80%. During a backup, these "pulse" from 1%
up to 25% and sometimes 50%. If BackupExec were sucking down data across
the network at capacity, all of the lights should remain on pretty much
constantly. Instead, they pulse from 1% to 50% at about once per second,
spending about half their time at each loading level. That means I'm
effectively getting about 25% utilization of the Ethernet overall, which
pretty much explains why I'm only getting 22 MB/min throughput.
There's no reason why the network should be behaving this
way. Come to think of it, the throughput was identical back when I was
running 10Base2, so the hub and UTP can't be the problem. This has to be a
problem with Windows NT not being able to deliver data fast enough. That's
pretty pathetic--not being able to saturate a 10 Mb/sec Ethernet. Perhaps
I'll test this assumption by copying large files back and forth over the
network, first from NT to NT and then from Linux to Linux. That should
prove interesting. If the NT-to-NT and the Linux-to-Linux copies are about
equal speedwise, I'll know it's BackupExec causing the problem. Somehow, I
don't think that'll turn out to be the case.
That brings up another issue with BackupExec. When I
installed it, it asked for an account that it would assign the Log on as a
service right. BackupExec Setup installs three services, two of which are
set to start automatically. Several months ago, I did some trial and error
troubleshooting to figure out why the server that BackupExec was running
on took forever to shutdown. I mean, I'm talking about 15 minutes or more
between the time you issued the shutdown command and the time it finally
actually shut down.
I'd run into this problem before with Exchange Server,
where it turned out that at least one of the services installed with ES
was causing the problem, so I figured it was probably due to a poorly
designed service in this case too. BackupExec services were the only
likely suspects, so I disabled all of them and did a shutdown. It took
about 1 minute total. I then restarted the services and did another
shutdown. Sure enough, it was back to taking 10 or 15 minutes to shutdown.
So, I reconfigured the BackupExec services for manual startup and made it
a matter of routine to start the BackupExec services only when I was ready
to start the backup and to stop them immediately after the backup was
complete. I just now went into Control Panel Services to do the same thing
on this machine.
And that brings up still another interesting issue. I'd
always noticed that the verify pass took a much shorter time than the
backup pass. Today, I happened to look over at the hub while BackupExec
was doing the verify pass. There was no activity at all, even though
BackupExec was in the process of verifying a backup of a network volume.
That seemed odd, so I continued to watch the hub for several minutes.
BackupExec verified more than 300 MB during that period, and the indicator
lights on the hub remained dark during that period.
Okay, I thought, there are two possibilities here. It's
certain that BackupExec is not doing an actual compare between the data on
the tape and the data on the drive. Perhaps that's why they call it a
"verify" instead of a "compare." Possibility number
one is that it's literally just doing a verify--reading the entire tape to
make sure that each bit is readable. I hope that's not all it's doing.
Possibility number two is that BackupExec calculates a CRC value for each
file as it backs it up, and stores that CRC with the file. By then reading
the file from tape, recalculating the CRC from the tape data, and then
comparing the two CRCs, it could in fact determine whether the data stored
on tape was the same as that read from disk. Let's hope this is what
At any rate, the backup and verify is complete. Per my
usual, I'll go stick this latest tape in Barbara's purse and retrieve last
week's version. With Barbara quitting her day job as of 12/31/98 and
starting to work for herself at home, this field expedient method of
rotating backups off-site isn't going to work much longer. I'll have to
come up with another solution.
And now, on a completely different topic, I'm considering
overhauling my web site appearance. FrontPage lets you use
"themes" which are a group of standard backgrounds, lines,
buttons, etc. that give a site a consistent appearance. When I first
started using FP, Barbara and I looked at the available themes. Of the two
or three dozen themes that came with FP, we liked only two. This one,
called "Expedition" and one other. The only problem with using
Themes and FrontPage components is that they kind of lock you in--the flip
side, I suppose, of ensuring consistency.
At any rate, Jerry Pournelle has been going on about
wanting to change the appearance of his web site to make it look more
"professional." I cobbled together a quick-and-dirty home page
for him just as an example. The more I look at that home page, the more I
like it. I think I may start using that style for this site instead of the
current Expedition theme. Among other advantages, it's very light on
graphics, so it should load pretty quickly.
I'd appreciate your thoughts about whether I should shift
to this new style or keep the existing one. You can see the example I
dummied up by clicking here. [Yes, I know this link doesn't work.
I decided just to redo the whole site instead of showing an example. RBT]
Note that the links don't work and so forth. This is just an example.
Please let me know what you think.
Well, as usual, once I decide I want to do something, I go ahead and do
it. I decided I liked this simple, text-oriented format so much better
than the FrontPage theme that I went ahead and started replacing older
pages with the newer style. As usual, I depend on Barbara's opinion quite
heavily. She's the one that originally picked the Expedition theme, and
she likes this better. So do I, so I'm changing over to it.
That's me up there in the top left corner. I don't know
what I was looking so unhappy about when that picture was taken, but I had
it handy so I used it. Actually, that picture originated with some shots I
took for my Images page. DigitalThink,
for whom I wrote a series of Windows NT MCSE training courses, took the
original photograph and did the blue background fade on it. I figured they
wouldn't mind me using it here since (a) it's a picture of me and (b) I
took the shot originally. They wouldn't let me use the shot of me wearing
a Viking helmet, more's the pity...
November 15, 1998
Okay. I got half a dozen responses concerning the new page
format. All of them said it looked a lot better, and most also said the
pages download faster. So I'm now in the process of overhauling the whole
site, page by page. This'll take a while, and I probably won't bother
changing all the older, less active pages, at least not right away, but
I'll change stuff as I have time to get to it.
Today, I help Barbara get her office into shape. We still
have some shelves left to install, and I have quite a bit to do on her
I spent most of today reorganizing the web site, adding
text here and there, and helping Barbara get her office straightened out.
Tomorrow, back to the O'Reilly book, the one I really want to be working
Coming Soon (I hope)