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Week of 11/30/98

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A (mostly) daily journal of the trials, tribulations, and random observations of Robert Bruce Thompson, a writer of computer books.


Monday, November 30, 1998

No book of the week this week. The worst book I read last week was Ken Follett's Hammer of Eden, and it was pathetic. It was so bad that I was actually moved to post a negative review of it on Amazon.com. This book was particularly disappointing because I've been a fan of Follett for a long time. Books like Eye of the Needle and Pillars of the Earth established Follett as a skilled novelist with mass-market appeal. Work like his latest is going to damage that reputation badly. The plot is contrived, derivative, and incredible in the literal sense. His characters are cardboard, and the dialog is wooden. This book appears to have been written as a screenplay, with a blockbuster special effects movie in mind. It may well work as a screenplay. It doesn't work as a novel. Save your money.

* * * * *

And the following excerpts from mail from Shawn Wallbridge regarding cable modems and static IP addresses, which for some reason Outlook 98 filtered to my Junk Mail folder:

I think they have almost the equivalent now. I have had the same IP address for 2 months now. I have heard of people having the same one for over a year. I think because the cable modems are always on they would need a much higher ratio of addresses to subscribers than normal. Maybe they have just started assigning them. I noticed that my machine had the same one after having it off for 3 days. The lease expired during that time, and I assumed I would have received a different address. I would think that they would have had at least a few new subscribers during that time and that once my lease expired that I would have lost my address. The only way I can think of to keep getting the same address is that they are using reservations.

Sorry to be so long responding. For some reason, Outlook 98 filtered your message into my Junk Mail folder, and I just got around to checking it. You make a good point about the "always-on" aspect. From what I've heard from various people, it appears that Shaw was using DHCP with a long lease duration, and is now switching over to static IP addresses. As far as getting the same IP address back after lease expiration, that's not particularly surprising. DHCP always tries to provide an unused IP address from its pool in preference to one that had been assigned and is recently expired. When you reconnect to the DHCP server, your client remembers the last IP address it had been assigned, and requests explicitly that the DHCP server again assign it that same address, if available.

One person I know that has ADSL said his main reason for going with it was the security that it provides. I didn't think it was a big deal and now I am paying half what he is ($40 vs $70/month) and mine is faster :)

It does sound like you have a good deal. My main problem with getting ADSL (assuming I could, which I can't) is that it is point-to-point. Once you sign up for it, you're locked into the phone company as ISP, and at their mercy if they decide to raise their rates. As far as speed, that raises an interesting issue, and the main one that concerns me about getting a cable modem (assuming I could, which I can't). With ADSL, one has a dedicated link, whereas with cable modem, one shares that link with others.

That contention may become a major issue as cable modems become more popular, and you're completely at the mercy of the cable company as to how many subscribers end up sharing a segment. With 50 or a hundred subscribers on a segment, you'll probably not notice much degradation. If they put thousands on one segment, you could eventually find your average throughput dropping to about dial-up levels. That's why I was happy to see Tom Syroid's address had been subnetted as a Class C, which leads me to believe that Shaw doesn't plan to put more than 254 subscribers on one segment. If they'd given him one that was subnetted as a Class B, I'd start to worry.

* * * * *

And the following mail from Bo Leuf:

Like some others, I found your site through reading Jerry Pournelle's site and noticing your reviews there. Enjoyable reading, and I set aside part of this morning to browse through some of the pages on your site. Most of the time these days I work as technical communicator, but there are many periods when there is no immediate work in the pipeline, so time gets split between family, back-burner projects, and browsing far and wide both on and off the Net.

Like many others, actually. It's tough to figure out things by looking at the server logs, but from what I can determine about a third of my current readers originated from Pournelle's site, with the remainder coming from buyers of my books and people who find it via search engines.

Some random comments...

Re technical inaccuracies -- I find it really amazing the level of abysmal ignorance one can run across in novels, and especially in film and tv, by people (and budgets) one would expect more from. We're not talking any serious level of research here, more like the pretty basic things that ought to be common knowledge by any minimally educated person in this century. Then again, perhaps this just proves the sometimes voiced suspicion that most people today are singularly non-technical and at root very alienated in this technological society, surrounded and dependent on gadgets that they simply do not even begin to (want to) grasp. Even supposedly technical people show a lack of concern about technical accuracy that is worrying in its long-term implications.

Yes, the theory seems to be that one shouldn't let inconvenient facts get in the way of a good story. And the sad thing is that it appears to work. Writers like Tom Clancy and Joseph Finder take great care with their facts, but ones like Patricia Cornwell just don't seem to care. Whenever she works something computer related into one of her plots, the results are laughable. Pretty bad for someone who supposedly was a computer analyst in an earlier incarnation. I don't know how anyone who knows anything about the subject matter can read her stuff without gagging. But she's by no means the only offender, or even the worst. Most people don't seem to care. I don't know why that is, but I agree that it's cause for concern.

Re freedom -- At heart I suppose I have a rather Heinlein-esque sense of values. Sitting in the fringelands of the dramatically changed and now rapidly congealing (the first word that came to mind) (almost-Federation) Europe, there are moments when I feel like I am living in some parallel timeline. We indeed seem to be leaving the "age of experimental democracy", but what we are entering is unclear and not always very evocative of the New Age and Internet predictions of "the dawning age of individualism". The heavy-handedness shown lately by the US federal government in many areas is especially discouraging, since we have traditionally looked to the US as profoundly expressing (for good and bad) "freedom of the individual". Few other places in the world come even close to this, and most fail even to understand or see the need for it.

We've let a wonderful thing slip away. Most people, unfortunately, are eager to trade freedom for perceived security, never understanding that by doing so they'll end up with neither. Democracy degenerates to mob rule. Just look at the bread and circuses we have here now, with worse to come. Few have thought to apply that ancient question, qui custodiet ipsos custodes, to democracy. That's the problem. We have no custodes. George Washington said that government, like fire, was a dangerous servant and a fearsome master. I'm afraid that we'll all be finding out just how true that is, and we'll be finding out sooner rather than later.

[moving to Vermont]

As usual, people run the entire range of opinions on freedom contra regulations, even here, and it was amusing some years back when Sweden voted to join the EU while Norway voted to stay outside. Quite a few voted then with their feet as it were, and the Swedish-Norwegian border saw considerable traffic as families moved one way or another, depending on their convictions about what would be best. This is of course nothing compared to how the people of former East Germany expressed their views, which ultimately changed the face of this entire continent, and by extension the world.

I am not sure that Americans appreciate the enormity of such movement in Europe. There is the old joke about what the difference is between America and Europe. In America, the borders stay put and the people move about. In Europe, the people stay put and it is the borders that move about. This has now _changed_ rather abruptly, and we cannot yet see what will come of it.

I think you're right. Very few Americans have any understanding of Europe at all, or even care to think about it. I hope that the EU nations are wise enough to prevent the central government from becoming dominant over the individual states, as ours has. You, at least, have the advantage of differing languages and customs as a barrier to homogenization. A unified Europe under a strong central government is a frightening concept, at least to me.

Re MS NT4. This is currently my work environment, along with Office. By and large I find NT4 fairly stable, though I suspect much of this may be due to legacy OS2 kernel design :) I would I think have preferred OS/2, and was for a time quite happy running Win32s under Warp3, at least until I hit the wall of upgraded software requiring a higher version of win32s than was supported by OS/2. I know that I am extremely ticked off by many recent MS improvements and upgrades, and the whole concept of hundreds of MB of SP4 files to run and run again every time some application is installed or removed is absolutely horrid, if not downright "evil". Why cannot a registered user simply receive an updated NT4-SP4 version of an original install CD instead? Everyone should bill MS for all the time wasted by these complicated and endless OS-related chores, is my opinion.

Like others therefore, I am deeply interested in the Linux developments, and even if not ready for everyman-install, Linux appears to hold enough promise (threat) that it will directly and indirectly affect the playing field in a good direction. Having for the moment abandoned trawling the Net for packages (beyond a trial base installation that boded well), I am currently waiting for a distribution CD to be delivered before experimenting more with Linux.

I agree that NT4 is a reasonably stable working environment, and it's what I use now almost exclusively. As far as the SP issue, I've mailed Microsoft several times asking them to please provide an option to use an SP to update a copy of the OS on the distribution server. That way, one could simply point to the distribution server instead of inserting the original distribution CD and then having to patch the installation after every change.

I've never heard back from them, but I'm about to try my own field-expedient method. One can expand SP files using the /x option, so what I'm thinking about doing is copying the original CD to a distribution server, expanding SP4 to individual files, and then copying those individual files over those on the distribution server. It's probably worth doing that as an experiment and then trying a fresh install from the distribution server. If I have time to do it, I'll report on it.


Tuesday, December 1, 1998

Not much new to report. I'm still working like mad to try to make up for the 200 hours or so that I lost on the abortive white paper project.

* * * * *

And the following response from Bo Leuf, which I am reproducing in whole here, without embedding comments of my own:

Thanks for your reply. About how many readers do you think you have?

(Sorry, this got interesting and thus somewhat lengthy...)

> Re technical inaccuracies

> Yes, the theory seems to be that one shouldn't let inconvenient facts get in the way of a good story.

I rather doubt it's even a theory -- winging it on blind ignorance is more like it.

> And the sad thing is that it appears to work.

As implied by the general lack of technical insight, most people won't even notice. Heck, we've been fed these inaccuracies large and small so often that even those with the insight often don't react to basic physical laws being broken or technical bloopers unless really paying attention. Cars always blow up spectacularly when they roll or crash, right? Helicopters can always hover at a 45-degree tilt, right? Computer screens always sound like an Olivetti TTY or go beepity-beep when displaying text in IBM-logo-style resolution, right? Control panels always explode and shower sparks when a programming error occurs... Yet I'm conditioned enough by a lifetime of this so that I can still watch a film or read a book and usually suspend the critical censor enough to "enjoy" the plot or action (whichever applies more). It's weird.

> Re freedom

> We've let a wonderful thing slip away.

I really hope not. I hope it is just a temporary phase, like others before it. The American system at its best has so far shown remarkable resilience, even though the recent combined pinch from your national sport, lawsuits, and media trivialization of just about everything are serious problems. I visited just a year ago (NY and Atlanta), and the atmosphere still seemed so much more positive, friendly and active than in Europe.

> Most people, unfortunately, are eager to trade freedom for perceived security

This point needs to be made again and again. This is why most dictatorships (and worse) get a foothold; the general population are initially quite happy with the overt dramatic decline in petty crime. Never mind that people always say about atrocities of one kind or another "it can never happen here", they are simply unaware of how _that_ state is inevitably reached from their current one given the right (or wrong) circumstances and general apathy to prevention.

> Democracy degenerates to mob rule. Just look at the bread and circuses we have here now, with worse to come.

Gloom and doom indeed. But you have people trying to do something about it, still. And your system has numerous checks and balances built in. As has been said before, freedom must constantly be rewon, by each generation, to be fully appreciated and more ominously to even survive. Now it must be rewon from a faceless enemy.

> ... That's the problem. We have no custodes. George Washington said that government, like fire, was a dangerous servant and a fearsome master. I'm afraid that we'll all be finding out just how true that is, and we'll be finding out sooner rather than later.

Presumably, there is some threshold beyond which government starts feeding on its own growth. Like taxes. Up to about 10% overall, people rarely complain much or cheat, and the money is adequate for the needs it is targeted for. Administration tends to be simple and direct; no profit in anything else. Beyond that, and most taxes these days everywhere are _far_ beyond that, we see bloated, involved bureaucracies devoted to collecting, managing, and distributing ever more loss-incurring streams of collective wealth, and just as busily devising new schemes to collect even more.

> I think you're right. Very few Americans have any understanding of Europe at all, or even care to think about it. I hope that the EU nations are wise enough to prevent the central government from becoming dominant over the individual states, as ours has.

We fight that from a serious disadvantage, in that the only European country that has any real tradition of individual rights and laws of freedom is England (from which the American system derives), while the entire EU legislative system is primarily based on the French system. Even the UK system is riddled with holes these days since there have been many quite arbitrary applications of such things as secrecy acts when one authority or another has felt it "necessary". England has this curious situation in that it does not have a "Constitution", only a patchwork collection of various papers and acts and custom to define the equivalent. England's stability has traditionally come from the (real) power of the Crown, normally delegated to Parliament, or actually the PM and Cabinet. That (West) Germany arose as a Federation based on the US system has probably been one of the factors that has so far kept the entire EU from getting too lopsided, but their tradition of this kind of government is none too long, and is now of course "diluted" with former East German attitudes. One thing that is rarely seen, is that the whole EU construct evolved from the _vision_ of a handful of men of post-war Europe. It has been pushed though despite the odds, despite the objections, and despite the peripheral political distractions for 50 years, virtually unchanged in its core concepts! These leaders are all gone now, and with them I fear is that guiding vision. What happens then? In Sweden, to take a parallel, Social Democracy had a vision of better living conditions, equality, and a fair welfare state. That vision propelled a small, out-of-the-way, agrarian country into a prominent and respected world position. This vision was lost sometime in the 60s-70s with the transition of that first generation of leaders, and Sweden today ranks among the lowest of the EU countries in several critical economic factors, and is rapidly acquiring a somewhat dubious reputation for human rights as well. Few here see that, and those that are confronted by it generally react with apathy or destructive anger, usually expressed in racist ways against non-Swedes.

> You, at least, have the advantage of differing languages and customs as a barrier to homogenization.

Yes and no. What seems to be happening is a sort of dissolution of the nation-state. On the one hand, regional interests are becoming more and more the touchstone of the political landscape. On the other, what used to be national interests are, sometimes alarmingly fast, becoming the reserve of a still faceless, but emerging central authority that can dictate laws that affect the individual. In the middle ground we instead see the large formerly national and now often intranational business groups, whose lingua franca incidentally is invariably English. We also see ourselves progressively fenced in, as "integration" lowers the national borders within the EU, but at the same time raises both physical and trade borders to the rest of the world. When the "homogenizing" unit is greater than the former nation-states, the opposition is oddly less than when the regional differences were suppressed by the national governments. Now it is the "national" differences that are being suppressed, and few notice or react to this.

> A unified Europe under a strong central government is a frightening concept, at least to me.

And believe me, to us, for this would by its very nature be extremely centralized in terms of power. At present, what is most visible is the squabbling in the EU/Nato arenas and the total failure to agree and act in one Yugo-crisis after another, but this paints a false picture, because the real unifying forces are quietly busy forging the security infrastructure. I am not paranoid about this, but it concerns me every time some fragment surfaces about this new EU police database, or that new bit of legislation. I saw back in the 70s what happened to the Swedish Constitution when several critical "freedom" laws were severely crippled without anyone realizing what was going on because of inept media focus on the third and least vital (retroactive) change involving royal succession. As the "noise" level rises in American politics over what in effect are non-issues, one fears that similar changes might occur in passing with your legislation. Your advantage there is the vocal investigators who could blow the whistle, assuming they could make themselves heard over the noise. We hope.

> [NT4]. As far as the SP issue, I've mailed Microsoft several times asking them to please provide an option to use an SP to update a copy of the OS on the distribution server. ...

Precisely. Your thought about manually creating an updated server version seems reasonable and I will look forward to hearing if that works. Thus in theory one could burn one's own updated install CD.

As far as readers, I think I have between 50 and 100 readers who check in daily or more often, a couple hundred more who check in two or three times a week, and several hundred who stop by occasionally. Small compared to the numbers that Pournelle's site draws, but respectable for a new site run by a non-celebrity. Please let your friends know if you think they'd enjoy the site.

Also, I got one note querying the meaning of the phrase "qui custodiet ipsos custodes". Freely translated from the Latin, it means "who will guard those selfsame guardians?" In other words, when you put the fox in charge of watching over the chicken house, who will watch over the fox?

You are more optimistic than I about the future of freedom in the US. I'm currently reading Donald McCaig's Jacob's Ladder: A Story of Virginia During the War. Politically Correct revisionist historians nowadays try to make the American Civil War about slavery. Very few Southerners owned slaves, and the average Southerner was as likely to disapprove of slavery as an institution as was the average Northerner. As one of the least efficient economic systems possible, slavery was on the brink of collapsing from its own weight. Had that war not been fought, it is likely that the South would have voluntarily abolished slavery sooner rather than later as the Industrial Revolution made its way into the South.

What the war was really about, of course, was States' Rights. Abraham Lincoln was certainly no friend of slavery, but neither was he a friend of slaves. His overweening goal was to preserve the Union, which he defined as a strong central government. Anyone who doubts that need only look at the date of the Emancipation Proclamation and examine which slaves it freed and which it did not. Our Civil War--or The War Between the States as many Southerners still call it--was fought to determine whether we would be one nation under the rule of a strong central government or, as originally intended, a loose confederation of United States with a weak central coordinating authority.

This war was really the Second American Revolution, and those who believed in small government lost. And the actions of the Federal government during that war were harbingers of things to come. They essentially suspended the Bill of Rights, introduced conscription, began issuing fiat currency in lieu of coinage, and took numerous other actions that must have had Thomas Jefferson spinning in his grave. We've never recovered from those extraordinary and unconstitutional powers that the Federal government arrogated to itself by claiming wartime exigencies. We probably never will.

The winners write the history books, and nowadays it's popular to equate support for the Confederate cause with racism and support for slavery. That's garbage, of course. Most Southerners who fought and died in that conflict had never owned a slave, and many would not have done on simple moral grounds. They fought to defend their homes and families against what they perceived as a foreign invader, pure and simple. Many of them were Abolitionists by conviction, but they fought anyway. They weren't defending slavery. They were defending themselves.

That was the turning point in American history as far as I'm concerned. Before that war, few Americans would have identified themselves as Americans. Instead, if queried about their citizenship, they'd have replied that they were Virginians, Pennsylvanians, or New Yorkers. After that war, citizens began to identify themselves as Americans first and only secondarily, if at all, as citizens of the states where they resided.


Wednesday, December 2, 1998

We had dinner last night at the Vineyard, a nice restaurant tucked in among the shops and boutiques at Reynolda Village, which was formerly the working farm of R. J. Reynolds. The dinner was to celebrate Barbara's birthday, which is today. I've been so busy working that I haven't gotten her anything, which is inexcusable. To make matters worse, she bought a present for herself at the mall last week and gave it to me to give to her for her birthday. She knew I was very busy, so she did that to help me. That makes me feel rotten. I'm sure that wasn't her intent. She's not easy to buy for, either, or I'd run out right now and get something.

* * * * *

I almost shot myself in the foot yesterday. I was playing around with the Windows 98 Drive Converter (FAT32) utility, and came within a mouse click of converting the C: drive from FAT16 to FAT32 on bastet, which dual boots Windows 98 and Windows NT 4. Just in time, I realized that NT4 boots from C:, and wouldn't be able to read it after the conversion to FAT32.

* * * * *

And then there's the Microsoft web site. I hadn't visited it in a couple of weeks, and when I tried to do it yesterday afternoon, I couldn't get in. At all. I kept getting script errors. This with IE4, not Netscape. I've never seen a site that makes such dramatic changes so frequently and to so little purpose as the Microsoft site. The changes in layout are bad enough, but why must they keep changing the URLs of existing pages? Some days I like Microsoft better than other days.

* * * * *

And the following mail from Andrew Sabel:

Just checking in and I am one of those who checks in almost daily and even bought the new book and am trying to self educate here a little.

About higher speed internet access--

Living 5 miles outside of Ketchum Idaho and no immediate prospect of high speed internet access--although the cable company is doing a lot of digging--I took the plunge and bought a direcpc dish with the PCI card, especially since I have a very clean southern shot to any satellite.

Set up an old Gateway P60 upgraded to a P120 to be the test bed internet server for my network--with NTS4.0. Went to www.helius.com where they have networking software that allows you to run the DIRECPC dish over a network, behind a proxy server--and Winproxy works fine--followed their rather good and detailed instructions--more than a few calls to Helius tech support--which seems to be one guy but helpful--and presto it actually works.

OK--I did have to call my electrician to get aimed at the satellite, but it only took 10 minutes

The 70 meg NT SP4 downloaded in well under an hour.

I am not sure how my bill is going to look but even if I have to up to the $ 100 / month rate plan it is well worth it. In any case keep up the good work in your column--it is nice to know that I am not alone with all of the black box mystery behavior of these PC's.

Thanks for the kind words, and for buying my book. You're the first person I've heard from who's using DirecPC. I'd looked into it when it first came out, but as I remember they were then charging basically for each byte downloaded and it seemed likely I'd end up with a bill for several hundred dollars a month. From what you say, It appears they've changed their rate structure. I was a little puzzled by your comments about having to use special software to allow Winproxy to share the DirecPC link as an Internet gateway. How does it even know you're using a private network behind a proxy server? At any rate, I'll look forward to hearing your experiences with DirecPC. It doesn't look like I'll be able to get cable modem or ADSL access any time soon, so that may be an alternative.


Thursday, December 3, 1998

Well, Windows NT has crashed again for no apparent reason. When I went back to bed at about 11:00 last night, sherlock was running fine. I used it to check my mail one last time before heading back to bed to read. When I get up in the morning, the first thing I do is let the dogs out. On the way to do that, I always stop by my office and start Outlook so that it'll dial my ISP and suck down the mail from overnight. At 6:45 this morning, I came into my office and double-clicked the Outlook icon. Nothing happened. The mouse cursor would move around, but other than that the system was locked up tight. This happens to me periodically under NT, and I don't know why.

Perhaps it's unfair to blame NT. This is a home-built system, and so does not appear on the Windows NT Hardware Compatibility list, but it uses mainstream components--Intel system board, Seagate hard drive, etc. And besides, the same thing has happened to me on systems that are on the HCL. There's no rhyme or reason to it. Sometimes, like this time, it happens overnight, when the system is idle. Other times, it happens as I'm literally in the middle of typing a sentence in Word or retrieving a web page with IE. It doesn't happen often--perhaps once every month or two--but it does concern me. Maybe it's cosmic rays or something.

* * * * *

On the good news front, I did get another chapter shipped to O'Reilly yesterday in rough draft form. There's no way I can make the original 12/15 deadline for 50% completion, but I should at least have four or five chapters submitted by then--call it 25% to 33% completion. Fortunately, O'Reilly is reasonable about things. If the author does all he can do, that's all they expect. In the past, I usually averaged about a chapter a week in rough draft form. This material is taking more like two weeks, and I lost a couple of weeks to the abortive whitepaper project.

Also, it appears that we are very near to finalizing the contract for the book that Pournelle and I are doing together. I'm sure he'll post details on his web site once everything is set.

* * * * *

And the following mail from Timothy Werth:

After reading your near miss w/FAT32 and NT I can tell you from experience that Partition Magic can convert the partition back to FAT16 and all is well. I was experimenting w/NT 5, Beta 2 and decided to test if NT 5 would boot from a FAT32 partition. No joy. (Dangerous I know, but since it was a beta and I was playing w/it I figured no big deal) I converted the boot partition back to FAT16 and NT 5 booted just like before. I do like the fact that NT 5 can see a FAT32 partition so that you can have large extended partitions shared between Win9x and NT.

Thanks for letting me know. I see that PartitionMagic 3 says on the box that it supports FAT32, and PM 4 says explicitly that it supports converting FAT16 to and from FAT32. But seeing it on the box and knowing it really works as expected are two different things.

Question, I think I read in one of your past weeks something about FAT32x. I think I've read that mentioned a couple of times but haven't been able to find anything out about FAT32x. Do you know what the difference is between FAT32 and FAT32x or did I just imagine something.

FAT32X is an enhanced version of FAT32 that allows FAT32 partitions to extend beyond 1,024 translated cylinders. In practice, this means that any drive larger than 8 GB must use FAT32X. FAT32X partitions have their own unique ID byte in the partition table, so operating systems consider FAT32 and FAT32X to be entirely different file systems. The fdisk and format utilities that come with Windows 95 OSR2.x and Windows 98 automatically create FAT32X partitions on drives larger than 8 GB.


Friday, December 4, 1998

I am about to give up on the Microsoft web site. IE blows up with script errors. So does Netscape. Here's one:

JavaScript Error:
http://www.microsoft.com/library/toolbar/toolbar.js, line 42:

missing } in compound statement.

var aD
.............^

IE returns the same script error in the same line. This is their HOME PAGE, for heaven's sake. Can someone really have left out a curly bracket without anyone noticing who can do something about it? Even worse, IE finds a second error in Line 29 - Object expected. The upshot is that with IE none of the links are active and there's no menu. I can, fortunately, use the site in text-mode. With Navigator, I can see the menus and links, but it blows up on searches and other asp pages. I'm beginning to hate Microsoft. I assume this had something to do with the recent Java ruling. Are they intentionally being obnoxious?

Just to make sure it wasn't something I'd done, I reinstalled IE on a virgin machine and used it without changing any of the default settings. I still got the script errors. Surely I'm not the only one who can't use the Microsoft web site. What is going on?

* * * * *

And the following mail from Steve Rindsberg:

Just a quick note to let you know how much I've enjoyed the brief bit of browsing I did around your site. Will be back when there's time to enjoy it at leisure. My friend Gary Berg suggested I stop by (and I see you and he have been having a chat about his Raid setup).

Funny thing: I decided you were My Kinda Guy after reading what you had to say about Que. Almost a replica of my experience with them. A chapter, then a couple, then my own book, only they started playing games I didn't like and I ended up backing out of the deal in sheer frustration. And ditto the feelings about O'Reilly. If ever there was a publisher I'd like to work for, it's them. Just awaiting the inspiration for a proper title idea.

Interesting discussion of ADSL vs Cable modems; I just got ADSL in this past Monday and am poking and prodding it from every direction to see how much I can learn about what makes it tick (and it seems to be ticking very nicely ... and quickly! ... indeed thus far).

Tick up another book sale, btw. I have a strong suspicion that your O'reilly NT book is just what I need to make some sense of the mess of wires and boxes here. <g>

Yeah, Que can be difficult to deal with, although I understand things have been changing around there lately. I think the main problem with Que and MCP is that it's so big. There are many people at Que that I enjoyed working with. They were competent, honest, and friendly. People like Fred, Elizabeth, Kevin, and Patti. They know who they are, and I note that most of them are no longer with Que. They were as trapped by the system as I was. Que and MCP are big companies that are subsidiaries of even bigger companies, and that was the root cause of most of the problems I had with them.

O'Reilly, while not a small company, is run like one, and I mean that in the best sense. When you work with Que, you're working as a cog within a large machine. When you work with O'Reilly, you work with individual people, all of whom subscribe to traditional values rather than the cutthroat way of doing business that has become popular as of late. Looking at Amazon, I see that you write about Powerpoint. I don't know that O'Reilly would be interested in a Powerpoint book, but it'd certainly be worthwhile to pitch one to them, if they don't already have one out or in progress. I believe they published a Photoshop book recently.

Please keep me posted on your experiences with ADSL. It's something I'll be interested in getting myself if BellSouth ever gets around to making it available here. And thanks for buying my book.

* * * * *

And Bo Leuf has this to say:

I had for a while contemplated going to NTFS for the NT partitions, but realized from various tech notes and cautions that this might not be such a good idea when running version SP1 -- if nothing else because the NTFS defrag and utility programs I looked at all require SP3. Getting the right SP3 from MS turns out to be a bit complicated (I'm running a Swedish version of NT), especially now when the MS site is becoming so IE4-only to use. In any case I tend to hesitate about net downloads that look to take many hours (MS refers me to the "Swedish MS site" for the fixpacks, but in the end it all points back to the same microsoft.com site we have all come to love so much -- and I have previously rarely gotten better than about 1.4 kbps from their server there.).

Then, the more I've heard about NTFS, your writings among other sources, the more dubious I got about the whole process. Finally the SP4 thing with y2k and 72 Mb dl plus 200+M free space required has just about stalled my "upgrade" plans for now. "It ain't broke..."

Yes, I see your problem. It sounds like one person in Sweden needs to download the thing (perhaps a university or business with a T1 or better) and then post it on a public server. My experience with SP1 (as best I can remember) was that it was reasonably stable, but still had some major gaps, particular with respect to security. SP2 was an abomination. SP3 is stable, and I run it on all but one of my current boxes. SP4 doesn't seem to be all that big a deal. I'm running it on one box until I have a better idea of whether I should upgrade the rest of my boxes.

If you can't get SP4 otherwise, please let me know. I'll suck it down and email it to you, so long as your mailer or ISP won't choke on a 75 MB+ file. If so, I could probably break it into smaller chunks and mail them one at a time, unless one of my readers (perhaps one with ADSL) has a better idea. If SP3 is the latest Swedish version, I could do it for that instead. Do you know when SP4 will be out in Swedish, or is it already?

So far I've stayed below 512 M to minimize the wasted space. One day real soon now, I was going to assign the CD to some high letter when I figure out the least painful way to adjust all the registry and ini references to the CD drive, so _it_ at least would stay put if I again mess around with repartioning, say for Linux.

Yes. The Registry Editors are primitive tools at best. Actually, the whole registry idea is a bad one. Assigning the CD a high letter is a good idea. I invariably assign mine as R: as soon as I finish installing NT. That way, any apps I install will be looking on R: automatically. Unless you just have a tone of apps already installed, it'd probably be easier just to reassign the drive letter and then re-install the apps to the same directories where they currently reside.

I've already had some taste of "lost CD syndrome" when I changed the pre-installed Win95 C-only to the present multiboot system. And also whenever I happen to have my external SCSI drive up and running. Predictably, it is the MS apps that are the most difficult here since they maintain absolute drive references in many different locations, not just the registry. I still haven't fully straightened out all "shared file" oddities from the original Office install, where I directed the install program to place the shared libraries in a user defined directory. Naturally, some got placed there, others in the system default, and some were inexplicably duplicated. RegClean cleared out the worst of the mess and most everything seems to work.

De-installing Netscape was almost as much fun -- NS learned a lot from IE's way of doing things it seems. The automatic uninstall seemed clean enough, but a subsequent RegClean run still created a 16K file full of Netscape registry entries.

I'm downloading the current RegClean as I write this. I'd tried an earlier version that had problems, and hadn't bothered to check for an updated version. Using this will probably be better than my usual fire-and-sword method. Normally, if I uninstall Netscape, I fire up the registry editor, find the highest level Netscape key, and delete it. I haven't had any problems doing things that way so far, but it makes some people blanche.

Something I found recently, but can't make any sense of, is shown at bottom, taken from the RegClean log that found it... It _looks_ like there was a forms object library installed in TEMP ... !?... F:\TEMP\VBE\MSForms.EXD (F is my NT4 partition) It's not there now, and there are a couple of programs that don't seem to run properly. Re-installing _them_ does not regenerate the VBE-EXD, so I wonder where it came from, what it did, and where it went. It didn't originate with the NT installation. I may well have deleted it myself, since I periodically look in temp and clear out MBs of junk that some install programs just leave behind. Wondering if you've seen anything like it?

Yeah, I'd noticed that, too. I did a quick check (to the extent anything is quick on the Microsoft web site nowadays--and found that inserting any type of control in a custom UserForm in Excel 97, Word 97, or PowerPoint 97 causes that directory and file to be created. Supposedly, you can delete it without error, but doing so causes a slower load next time. There are more details at:

http://support.microsoft.com/support/kb/articles/q158/8/75.asp

* * * * *

And I finished downloading RegClean and ran it. I used Notepad to call up the .reg file it created, and didn't see anything that looked significant. Soon after, however, Netscape started hanging and otherwise acting strange. So I double-clicked the .reg file to put those entries back into the registry, and now Netscape appears to work properly. Geez.


Saturday, December 5, 1998

Barbara was watching the NASCAR/Winston Cup Awards Banquet last night. I was running short of new books to read, and happened to look at the TV section to see if there was anything good on. I noticed that Showtime was running Starship Troopers, which I hadn't seen. Just to make sure it was really the Heinlein Starship Troopers, I checked the movie guide. Yep. Big killer bugs. Had to be Heinlein. So I taped it. At 11:00 the NASCAR thing finished up and Barbara went back to bed. I rewound the tape and fired it up.

I don't know why I expected anything much from the movie. Very few movies that adapt books are worth watching if you've read the original book, and this one was no exception.

As usually happens, the person who wrote the screenplay kept things like character names and minor plot details intact while gutting the message the book conveyed. One of the changes that surprised me most was the race of the lead character. In the book, Juan Rico is black, although you don't find that out until late in the book. In the movie, he's white. I'd be surprised in these Politically Correct times that that hadn't caused a furor, except I'd guess that neither the writers nor most of the viewers had actually read the book. If you've seen the movie but not read the book, do yourself a favor and read it. In isolation, the movie really isn't that bad if you like shoot-em-ups. But you'll be surprised how bad the movie really is compared to the book upon which it is putatively based.

* * * * *

All this talk recently about ADSL and cable modems got me to thinking. Time-Warner Cable doesn't plan to deploy cable modems until "sometime after 2000". BellSouth hasn't deployed ADSL in Winston-Salem yet, but may do so at some unspecified future data. Something tells me that if Time Warner started deploying cable modems, BellSouth would suddenly decide that getting ADSL deployed in Winston-Salem should be a higher priority.

I decided to check into ADSL, so I hit the BellSouth home page and started looking. There's quite a bit there on ADSL, but nothing that answers the one question I had: "Will you provide a static IP address?" After bouncing around their 800 support line for a while, I finally got the answer I didn't want to hear. They don't provide a static IP address. They use DHCP.

Now, ADSL is a dedicated, point-to-point link, which means it's active all the time and using an IP address. The only reason not to assign a static IP address is to prevent people from using ADSL for inbound as well as outbound Internet access. With a static IP address, I could run DNS and a web server locally. InterNIC requires two DNS addresses, but that's no problem. I could work a deal with one of my friends. I'd use my DNS server to provide secondary DNS for him, and in return he'd use his DNS server to provide secondary DNS for me.

BellSouth uses DHCP to assign dynamic IP addresses. That means there's no way to know what my IP address will be, so there's no way to register it with InterNIC, and no way to use ADSL to run local DNS and web servers. Obviously, BellSouth does things this way to control what you can do with ADSL. God forbid that people should be able to use cheap ADSL connections to replace BellSouth's hideously overpriced T-carrier-based Internet services.

But speaking of cheap ADSL connections, I may go with ADSL anyway. What I'd hoped to do was replace my current dial-up Internet account ($20/month), my web hosting service ($25/month), and the telephone line I use for dial-in access ($20/month) all with ADSL. Since ADSL costs $60/month, I'd end up paying a couple bucks less a month and getting much faster access in the bargain. Even without being able to dispense with the web hosting service, however, I still may go with ADSL. The difference is $40/month for 33.6 Kbps access versus $60/month for much faster access--up to 8 Mbps downstream (them to me) and 1 Mbps upstream. Probably worth it, especially now that Barbara will be working at home and needing Internet access all day long.

* * * * *

And the following mail from Mike Wright:

Robert, I wanted to send you an "Attaboy" for your web site. I've read from some of your correspondents that they came to you via Jerry Pournelle's site, and that's true for me.

The reason I felt compelled to write is that I wanted to thank you for your book recommendations. I've enjoyed several of the old mysteries you were reading earlier. I'm always looking for direction in what to read next.

Being a 50 year old, I find myself perplexed by the problem we all face--so much to read (to do, to see, to know, etc) and so little time. Hence, when I find someone else who can direct me to books that I might not have a chance to find out about, I'm grateful.

By the way, I read your comments about the state of liberty in the US. In general, I agree. However, I wonder if you've read the book "The Fourth Turning?" While I generally don't believe in cycles, I do believe in reactions. I feel we've seen similar changes in the past, and proper reactions to them. However, the question is open as to whether the reactions ever restore the full liberty that was there before, or only part of it. Once step forward after two steps back. Just a thought.

Thanks for the kind words. If you enjoy mysteries, here are a few series that you might not have chanced upon:

Elizabeth Peters - Ms. Peters, whose real name is Barbara Mertz, writes several series as Elizabeth Peters, and others as Barbara Michaels. Writing as Peters, her Amelia Peabody Emerson series is my favorite. The books are set in Victorian/Edwardian Britain and Egypt. Her main character is a woman Egyptologist with distinctly modern ideas. There are probably seven or eight books in the series by now, and although you can start with any of them, it makes sense to start with the first. Ms. Mertz is actually an Egyptologist herself, so the detail is authentic.

Lawrence Block - also writes several series. His The Burglar Who... series features Bernie Rhodenbarr, a semi-reformed burglar who owns a bookstore.

Aaron Elkins - writes at least one series worth reading. It features Gideon Oliver, a forensic something-or-other. I want to say forensic anthropologist, but that's not quite right. They call him a bone doctor, and he solves crimes based on skeletal remains. At any rate, it's a fascinating series.

Anne Perry - writes two series, both set in Victorian Britain. One, featuring Thomas Pitt, is set in circa 1895. The other, featuring William Monk, is set in circa 1855. Both are very well written and full of convincing period detail.

I'm not familiar with The Fourth Turning, but I'll ask my wife to get it for me. She'll be a librarian for another week or so, and then she'll be self-employed, like me.


Sunday, December 6, 1998

Today is our day to work around the house. Barbara's in the midst of getting Winter Solstice decorations up, and today I have to help clean house, do laundry, etc. I'd better get to it.

* * * * *

This from Robert Morgan:

There's a trick to dealing with a dynamic IP when you really want a static ip for your web hosting. I'm sure you've already thought about it:

1. Maintain a minimal web site at a service provider, and register your domain name to point to it.

2. Make everything after the home page point to your own web site on your dynamic ip. Build a script on your own machine that updates the ip address on the isp-based web site whenever it gets changed.

It's not perfect but it does work. The drawback is that if people bookmark your site, those bookmarks will break when your ip changes.

I'm not sure what you mean here. I assume the service provider you're referring to in step one is a web hosting provider (or an ISP that provides web hosting services.) In either case, to register a domain name you have to provide two DNS server addresses, so you might just as well use the service provider to host your web site, right? Otherwise, you end up with a URL something like www.serviceprovider.net/yoursite or www.yoursite.serviceprovider.net. To get your own domain registered in the first place, you have to have at least one site that's accessible on the Internet at all times.

Actually, you could probably get away with running a site with a dynamic address anyway. So long as your ADSL/cable modem is turned on and connected, you get to keep the same address. Even if you disconnect and then reconnnect, you have a very good chance of getting the same address, because your DHCP client explicitly requests it. If the provider uses any kind of reasonable DHCP lease period, you're likely to keep the same IP address for months or years. You could connect, find out what that IP address is, and use it to register with InterNIC. Set your local DNS server as authoritative for your domain, and set a very short TTL in the SOA resource record. If your IP address ever changes, you can simply update the primary DNS server value on InterNIC. The short TTL guarantees that it will be proliferated quickly, at the expense of causing somewhat more traffic to your DNS.

You might get a friendly service provider to put in a third-level domain name like local.ttgnet.com and have them keep it up date, so bookmarking would work.

Nah, I'll just keep my real domain and keep paying Bigbiz.com $25 a month to host it. If cable modems do arrive here, and if they assign a static IP address, I may change my mind, but I doubt it.

The real benefit is you can do things like building .asp pages and using SQL Server to generate pages dynamically. Doing that with a service provider is usually unreasonably expensive.

I'm not a big fan of dynamic content. Not only does it load the server, but it makes it difficult or impossible for search engines to index the content. As a matter of fact, sometimes I wonder if sites that depend heavily on dynamic pages do so to prevent their content from being indexed. After all, a robots.txt file is easy enough for a spider to ignore.

I get my cable modem on Tuesday after six months of promises. Don't know whether I get a static ip or not. My provider uses limits to control web hosting: I get 4 gigs downstream and 800 megs upstream per month. I'm using Videotron in Montreal. I think it costs C$50 / month plus C$400 for the modem and the installation. I have the incredible good fortune to get it for C$10/month with no installation cost because my wonderful wife works for them!

Congratulations. You can still host a reasonable personal site with that kind of throughput allowance. That's more than 25 MB/day upstream, which is a whole lot of pages. If you don't get a static IP address automatically, you could just request one. It's not like it takes more than 15 seconds to set one up, and it sounds like you have the connections with the company.

It's interesting to compare the US and Canadian prices I hear about. You guys seem to pay about the same or less in C$ that we pay in US$. My friend John Mikol lives in Rural Hall, which is served by King Cable instead of Time-Warner. He got a cable modem a few months back, and I think they charged him $40 or $50 a month plus $600 for the modem. Same deal on ADSL. It's US$60/month in BellSouth land, and several people have mentioned to me that in Canada it runs C$60 or C$70 a month.

* * * * *

And the following from Tom Syroid. I tried to mail my reply, but his ISP returned an error saying that his mailbox was full, so I'll post it here:

Just finished reworking my drive partitions and installing Office2000 and NTWS. Also added a partition and installed Win98. In my case, Win98 did not edit the BOOT.INI file as it did in yours. Could you give me some direction on what edit I need to do to get Win98 showing on the boot menu and accessible from same? Right now I'm using FDISK to actitvate whatever partition I want to boot to and it's a wee bit on the awkward side.

PS: Copy of my BOOT.INI attached in case it's easier to mark it up than 'splain.

Sure. Here's my boot.ini from bastet/anubis.

[boot loader]

timeout=10

default=multi(0)disk(0)rdisk(0)partition(2)\WINNT

[operating systems]

multi(0)disk(0)rdisk(0)partition(2)\WINNT="Windows NT Server Version 4.00"

multi(0)disk(0)rdisk(0)partition(2)\WINNT="Windows NT Server Version 4.00 [VGA mode]" /basevideo /sos

C:\="Microsoft Windows"

A couple of issues:

1. I've never tried to install dual-boot any way but with Win9x in the first partition and WinNT on D: or whatever. Usually, I install Win9x first and WinNT later. This last time, WinNT was installed first, but it was on D: and I installed Win98 to an empty C:. I'm not sure what happens when NT is sitting in the first partition, particularly if the first partition is NTFS.

2. It should be safe to modify your boot.ini along these lines, just by adding "D:\="Microsoft Windows"" or whatever. If it doesn't work, the worst you should get is an "Unknown operating system" message in your boot options screen. To do that, try:

[boot loader]

timeout=10

default=multi(0)disk(0)rdisk(0)partition(1)\WINNT

[operating systems]

multi(0)disk(0)rdisk(0)partition(1)\WINNT="Windows NT Workstation Version 4.00"

multi(0)disk(0)rdisk(0)partition(1)\WINNT="Windows NT Workstation Version 4.00 [VGA mode]" /basevideo /sos

D:\="Microsoft Windows"

3. If that doesn't work, I think there are only two choices. Either reinstall, with Windows 98 on C: and Windows NT on D:, or try one of the boot managers like the one that comes with PartitionMagic.

If anyone has tried doing dual-boot with NT on the first partition, please let me know how you did it. I guess it should work if the first partition is FAT, but I'm not sure how Windows 9x could boot if the first partition is NTFS.

 


Coming Soon (I hope)

 

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