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Daynotes Journal

Week of 12/21/98

Friday, July 05, 2002

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


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Monday, December 21, 1998

Two Books of the Week this week:

The Lost Tomb, by Kent R. Weeks. This book, written by the man who did it, tells the story of the re-discovery and exploration of KV5, a tomb within the Valley of the Kings that may contain the graves of as many as 28 of the 30 sons of Rameses the Great. This book is both fascinating and frustrating. Fascinating, because KV5 may well be the most important Egyptological discovery of this or any other century. Even now, with excavation just started, it seems likely that the information gained from studying this tomb will be far more important to understanding the New Kingdom than the treasures uncovered by Howard Carter when he opened Tutankhamun's tomb. Frustrating, because the book is marred by poor grammar and other flaws that should never have passed the copy editor. It also loses focus by interleaving descriptions of contemporaneous life in the area and discussions of the possible connections of this tomb to the Biblical Exodus legends, things apparently added to "popularize" the narrative. The book should have been twice as long and had about five times as many photographs. Even so, it's a must-read if you have any interest in Egyptology.

Victoria's Daughters, by Jerrold M. Packard. Although it is not the first book to focus on the five daughters of Queen Victoria, this is by far the best of those I have read. Victoria, although the British sovereign, had the value structure, outlook, and behavior of a lower-middle class German hausfrau. Her family spoke German at home, visited Germany often, and generally married Germans. They were British only by courtesy, and yet did as much or more to affect the future course of Great Britain as did any native subject.Victoria herself was stupid, self-righteous, and frequently behaved in ways that would have led to her being placed in an insane asylum had she been anything less than the queen. Although Packard makes much of the supposed intelligence of her elder daughters, Victoria and Alice, these women were intelligent only by comparison with the dullards that made up the rest of the family. It was during Victoria's reign that serious discussion of abolishing the monarchy began. With this woman as queen and her children as heirs, it's easy to see why.

* * * * *

And this from Shawn Wallbridge:

Personally I like the lay out of your site. I find it hard to keep up with everything on Jerry's site. I rarely read the mail, and then I find out I have missed something good. Back when he was writing about Linux, he had 2 or 3 pages going at once. I finally just gave up. I have since gone back and read them all, but it was taking too much time.

Yes, I share your frustrations with Pournelle's site design. But it's not his fault, really, as I'm finding out for myself. He simply has so many things going on that it's difficult to organize them usably. Then there's the issue of making the material accessible after the fact. He could simply organize things chronologically in his View and Mail pages, but that'd make it very hard to go back later and pull out all the material on, say, Linux.

I also like the typewriter face for readers mail. I prefer reading black text on a light background and I like the parchment background. Sometimes I have your site in one window and Jerry's in another and I have to look twice to see which site I am reading. But your lay out is different so it's not a big deal.

I'm returning to that convention for user mail. Although I don't attempt to make my site resemble Pournelle's, I suppose it's no bad thing if it does.

* * * * *

And this from Norman R. Neville:

I'd appreciate your opinion on an economical CPU Upgrade for a 3 year old Packard Bell Legend 2430 (75 Mhz Pentium). I upped the RAM to 16 MB a couple of years ago, and the Harddrive to a 2.6 GB a year ago. I'll probably increase RAM to 32 Mb next week. I understand Evergreen is coming out with a PCI platform that should be able to support almost any CPU. I'd just like to go to 233 or 266 Mhz. Any ideas?

I've read about the Evergreen PCI card and seen a picture of it, but I haven't yet examined it. However, I'd suggest that you consider a motherboard replacement rather than a CPU upgrade. You'll probably spend about the same amount of money and get more bang for your buck. The trouble with upgrading just the CPU is that you still have your old chipset, BIOS, etc. If you replace the motherboard, you get the latest chipset and BIOS, support for new features like Ultra-ATA and USB, and a new motherboard that's designed for the higher performance CPU. In general, the CPU upgrade kits are for people who want an easy upgrade above all else. Installing one takes about five minutes, but you end up paying more and getting less than if you upgraded the entire motherboard.

I don't know your specific machine, but I'd guess that it uses a Baby-AT motherboard. If so, there are any number of alternatives to choose from. You can check out http:www.motherboard.com or http://www.motherboards.com for some ideas. (They're two different companies). I'd be inclined to go with either a board that will take an Intel Celeron-A (the "-A" is important) or a Super Socket 7 board that will take the AMD K6-2. If you go with the Super Socket 7 board, look for one that uses a VIA, SiS, or ALi chipset. Steer clear of anything that mentions the TX-Pro or HX-Pro chipset. If you go with the Celeron-A board, you'll have to buy new SDRAM DIMM memory, but memory is pretty cheap nowadays. If you go with the Super Socket 7 board, you may or may not be able to use your existing memory.

It's also possible that your system uses the LPX motherboard form factor. Some "low-profile" systems sold through mass merchants like Circuit City used this form factor. You can identify an LPX motherboard by the fact that the expansion cards are installed in a riser card rather than directly into the motherboard, making the expansion cards parallel to the motherboard rather than perpendicular to it. If that's the case, your motherboard replacement options are more limited. I believe that Intel currently sells an LPX form factor board that uses the BX chipset and supports the Pentium II and Celeron. If so, that'd be a good bet, although finding the board may be harder than finding one of the more mainstream boards.

* * * * *

And now I'd better get back to work. Barbara's at the gym now. When she gets back, we have some errands to run. After that, I need to start writing if I'm to have any hope of meeting deadlines.


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Tuesday, December 22, 1998

And by popular demand...

Call for Tech Reviewers

In the past, I've mentioned that I wanted to offer my web site readers the opportunity to serve as technical reviewers for my current book, but that I had to get O'Reilly's approval to do so. Several of you have expressed an interest in serving as tech reviewers, and this morning I got the go-ahead from O'Reilly to proceed. The book I'm currently working on is about PC hardware (not to be confused with the other book about PC hardware that Pournelle announced on his site that we'd be co-authoring).

If you want to participate, please email my O'Reilly editor, Robert Denn, to let him know you're interested. State your PC hardware qualifications briefly, and let him know if there are any aspects of PC hardware that you feel particularly qualified to review. If you know a lot about hard drives but not much about motherboards (or vice versa) that's fine. Don't be too intimidated by the "qualifications" issue. If you've ever built a PC, done substantial upgrades to one, or just take a strong interest in PC hardware, you may well be qualified.

Let Robert know if you're interested in reviewing one chapter, several chapters, or the entire book. Although qualifications certainly play a major role in choosing tech reviewers, there's a definite first-come-first-served aspect to all of this, too, because there can only be a limited number of tech reviewers. For this reason, don't take it amiss if you aren't accepted as a reviewer. That doesn't necessarily mean that you don't have good qualifications; it may just be that all slots are already filled. So if you're interested, it'd be a good idea to let Robert know as soon as possible. O'Reilly, not me, runs the tech review process, so if you have any questions about any of this, please direct them to Robert.

And thanks in advance for volunteering to help.

* * * * *

This from Bo Leuf about Opera and cookies:

Opera tech support gave me the following reply on cookie management: "No, you've not missed anything, Opera's Cookies are that way. You'll be pleased to know, however, that we are working on a cookie manager which will make its way into a version of Opera in the not-so-distant future." Always something.

I'm not surprised. Opera seem to be pretty good folks from everything readers have told me.

* * * * *

And this from Shawn Wallbridge:

I forgot to mention yesterday I have read about the 'feature' in Office 2000 that forces you to register. I recently read something about it (unfortunately I can't remember where) that stated that they were only going to use that in shipments to Asia and Australia. I was amazed that they would do that. But I will probably get it even if they do force me to register.

Surely a company that spends $4 billion a year on R&D could come up with a better solution to stop piracy. Forcing the legitimate customers to endure nag messages and other garbage is ridiculous. Imagine a car manufacturer forcing your car to go to a dealership for an oil change every 3000m.

I've had several other messages saying pretty much the same thing about the registration requirements for Office 2000, so I'm forced to conclude that the article I read was incomplete. It mentioned the forced registration after 50 startups, but said nothing about it being limited geographically. I hope you're right, because I'd like to upgrade to Office 2000, particularly for the enhancements to Outlook and FrontPage.

Actually, this isn't the worst I've seen. A few months ago, I got an eval copy of IBM's ViaVoice speech recognition program. I was shocked to find that registration was a required part of installation. You can't use the product at all until you register it. They gave me a choice of registering by fax, email, or telephone. When I finally got my blood pressure under control, I called the 800 number, keeping in mind that it wasn't the fault of the woman who answered the phone. I told her politely that forcing people to register was unacceptable, and she told me that I wasn't the first person to say that. She told me that she had to fill out the form to generate an init key for me. She asked my name, and I told her "none". I gave her the same response for address, telephone number, and all the rest of the information the form required. At the end, she gave me an init key based on the information I'd provided, which was to say "none."

This situation is only going to get worse in the near future because of the proposed changes to Article 2B of the UCC. Ed Foster, the InfoWorld columnist, has been going on about this problem for some months now, but it's beginning to look like the software industry is going to succeed in getting the language they want into 2B, which will be a disaster for software consumers.

For example, 2B as modified makes shrink-wrap license agreements valid and enforceable. Someone proposed that vendors should at least have to post their license agreements publicly on a web site or otherwise, but that amendment was shot down because it would supposedly put too much of a hardship on small software vendors. The upshot is that if 2B is accepted as modified, you'll be buying the proverbial pig in a poke when you buy software. You can't read the license agreement until you break the shrink wrap. If you find the terms of that agreement unacceptable, 2B will kindly allow you to not use the software. Don't plan on getting your money back, however. Except for tightly defined "retail" purchases of one unit, 2B will permit vendors to refuse to refund your money. That's outrageous.

If you're not familiar with the debate about the changes to 2B, click here to read the InfoWorld summary.

* * * * *

And now to work.

* * * * *

And this from Dave Farquhar, a man who obviously knows a whole lot more about Packard-Bell computers than I do:

Upgrading Packard Bells presents some unique challenges. I know them well, because I put myself through my first two years of college selling mass-market PCs. Virtually any desktop PC sold by a mass merchandiser in the past four or five years will have an LPX motherboard, if not something even more proprietary (can you say Compaq?). Packard Bell rarely uses anything but LPX boards.

Packard Bell power supplies tend to be failure prone though, so upgrading a PB motherboard doesn't strike me as wise. There's the difficulty of finding suitable LPX boards, then the price you pay when you finally do find one. Expect to pay a $50 premium over a comparable Baby AT or ATX board. Then, if your power supply goes out six months later, you've got some real problems. Some Packard Bells use standard-size power supplies, and some don't. So the cost of replacement may be $40, or it might be $150.

There only seems to be two sensible upgrade options for a Packard Bell (and this holds true for a lot of other mass-market PCs). A drop-in CPU upgrade, which may or may not be compatible. If the PC has a non-MMX Pentium, if you can find an IDT WinChip, it's a drop-in replacement. The nice thing about WinChips is they use the old 1.5x multiplier as a 4x multiplier, so a 240 MHz WinChip is a drop-in replacement for a Pentium-90. No jumper changes, no nothing. If that PB motherboard has jumper settings for a P-90 (which it very well might), that's a cheap way to wring more performance out of it --the WinChip-240 costs less than $70 if you can find one (check www.pricewatch.com).

The other option that makes sense is to buy a new case, power supply, motherboard, video card, and CPU. While this may seem wasteful, it will cost less than a comparable LPX board would, and you've got a far better selection. It might even cost less than a CPU upgrade kit from Evergreen or Kingston would. I just paid $75 for a brand-new AOpen ATX board with a VIA chipset, put a $44 Cyrix 6x86MX CPU in it (I intend to replace it with an AMD K6-3 when those finally come out), and good ATX cases cost about $70. As for video cards, you can get a $20 Cirrus Logic-based card that'll be better than anything a Packard Bell would have come with three years ago, and you can go up from there. I'm thrilled with my STB Velocity 128, which set me back about $80. After you get that bundle, just transfer your memory, modem, sound card, hard drive, floppy drive, and CD-ROM, and you've got yourself a system that'll perform better than the CPU upgrade would have, at least as well as the LPX board would have, and you've replaced all the components that are most prone to failure. (My AOpen/Cyrix/STB combination makes a fantastic business machine, and it wouldn't be half bad for strategy games either.)

And you're right to avoid any board that has the word "Pro" or "II" in the chipset. Anything that tries to sound like an Intel name should be avoided. Some vendors even advertise these boards with "Intel TX Pro chipset."  Remember, Intel's been trying to exit the Socket 7 business for two years. These are cheap knock-off chipsets that are neither fast, reliable, nor compatible. That $35 price tag on that motherboard may look good, but that's its only virtue. Pay the extra $40 to get something good.

Obviously, books can (and have) been written on upgrading PCs, because there's no "best" strategy that works every time. The problem with such books is they're bound to be obsolete by the time they make it off the press and into the stores.

I hope this can help Mr. Neville and other readers.

Dave Farquhar

Microcomputer Analyst, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod

Views expressed in this document are my own and, unless stated otherwise, in no way represent the opinion of my employer.

Thanks. I'm going to post your message as is. You obviously know a whole lot more about Packard-Bell PC's than I do. I agree that mass-market PCs in general are poorer upgrade candidates than machines (like those sold by Gateway, Dell, and others) that are built around industry-standard components. Although I'm sure that the use of proprietary components is at least partially due to manufacturer's desire to limit users to buying upgrades from them, I suspect that it has more to do with minimizing manufacturing and support costs, pure and simple. Mass market PC manufacturers would kill to save 10 cents in manufacturing costs per unit.

In fact, given the amount of PC you can put together for $1,000 or less, it often makes little sense to upgrade an older unit at all. It's worth more to many people as a second PC than as a foundation for an upgraded system. The cost of memory, monitors, and hard drives used to be a stumbling block, but no more. For years, memory was pretty stable at about $50/MB. With it now in the $1/MB range, recycling existing memory isn't necessary. Same thing with monitors. It's amazing how much monitor you can get nowadays for $300 or so. As far as hard drives, they're at a couple cents a MB now and dropping fast.

* * * * *

And thanks to Roger G. Smith for letting me know about this nasty new Windows NT virus:

Virus Snarls NT Nets

http://www.wired.com/news/news/technology/story/16981.html

Heh. Well, the NSA never did rate NT as secure with networking turned on AFAIK.

You can also read more about this virus and how to determine if your Windows NT system is infected at the Network Associates/McAfee web site. Basically, check Start - Settings - Control Panel - Services. If Remote Explorer is listed as a service, you are infected. Also, right-click on the Task Bar and Choose Task Manager. Click the Processes tab to display the Processes page. If either IE403R.SYS or TASKMGR.SYS (not TASKMGR.EXE) are listed, you have it.

 


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Wednesday, December 23, 1998

Well, the Weather Channel and the National Weather Service both say we're likely to get an ice storm this afternoon and evening, so I may get a chance to try out that backup generator. Barbara picked up two 6-gallon gas cans and a bottle of gasoline preservative at Wal-Mart a couple of weeks ago. We did a bunch of errands Monday, including getting an audio CD cable for Barbara's computer and getting our cell phones reprogrammed for the new area code, so we stopped at the gas station and filled up the cans. She also picked up a case of motor oil, so we have everything we need except a means to connect the generator into the house electrical circuits. We do have a long heavy-duty extension cord, however, and that'll at least let us alternate powering the refrigerators and freezer. If it comes to that, which it usually doesn't. We get one or two significant ice storms a year, but it's only once every three or four years that the ice storm is bad enough to cause us to lose power for any extended period.

* * * * *

WinGate 3.0 is now available. I downloaded it yesterday afternoon and installed the WinGate Pro configuration on bastet, my Windows NT resource server. I haven't configured it yet because I need to install a phone line and modem for bastet. Looking at the list of new features, however, it appears that WinGate 3.0 is a worthwhile upgrade. I've been running WinGate Pro 2.0 for a year or so now. I never did bother to upgrade to 2.1 because 2.0 was doing everything I needed it to do, and was doing so with no problems at all. But since I'm getting ready to migrate the WinGate server from sherlock to bastet, it made sense to upgrade to the new version at the same time. I'll have a complete report when I get around to doing that. Of course, the last time I set up WinGate, the complete report consisted of "it installed flawlessly and runs perfectly." There wasn't much more to say. If you need to share one dialup or ISDN Internet connection with a small network, WinGate is the way to do it.

* * * * *

We spent yesterday evening at the Tucker's house. After exchanging presents with the kids, we played a few games of darts on their new talking electronic dart board. Unfortunately, I'm no better at electronic darts than I am at regular darts. It's embarrassing to be beaten by a six year old. Still, it's amazing what a microchip can do. I also borrowed Steve's toner and butt set, which I need to re-run the phone lines back to Barbara's office for her business line and fax line. I'll probably get that done this weekend.

* * * * *

And thanks to everyone who's volunteered to do tech review. Robert Denn tells me that the slots are filling up quickly, so if you want to get involved, now's the time to email him.

* * * * *

And this from Robert Morgan:

I'm not a bigger fan of forced registration than you or anyone else, but why the double standard on your web site?

You rightfully complained about Win2000's policy, as well as IBM's, but today you mentioned the new release of Wingate, without a single word of their registration policy, which seems remarkably similar and equally damning. To run the software you need a key. To get the key you need to give your name to Wingate.

What's the difference?

I wasn't aware that I was using a double standard. When you buy the IBM and Microsoft products, you're getting a physical product. They already have your money, and there's no excuse for forcing you to register a product that you've already paid for. In the case of WinGate, you're downloading a product, for which you have to pay. Obviously, they have to get your name and credit card information in order to get paid for their product. However, WinGate is also available through resellers as a traditional shrink-wrapped version with distribution media. If WinGate forces users to register that version, I wasn't aware of it. If they do, my objections to the IBM and Microsoft policies apply equally to WinGate.

* * * * *

And Roger G. Smith asks:

What is a "toner and butt" set? This is a jargon test, right? :;)

Sorry. A toner is a device that cable installers use to help them figure out which wires are which. You clamp the toner onto a pair of wires and turn it on to put a musical tone on that pair. You can then use an inductive amplifier at the other end of the cable to quickly locate that pair amongst all the other pairs in your wiring closet.

My house has scores of cable runs. All of the cables are beige or gray sheath with four pairs--blue, orange, green, and brown--and all of them terminate to a panel in my basement. Figuring out which cable goes to a particular outlet is non-trivial, even with everything labeled pretty well. Putting tone on a pair within that cable makes locating it easy. If you're running cable and don't want to pay $50 or $75 for a toner/amp, you can also use an ordinary radio as the audio source.

The butt set is essentially an ordinary telephone with alligator clips that allows you to connect temporarily to a pair to listen to what's on it. It does have some features that ordinary phones do not, like the "Monitor" switch that allows you to listen in without going off hook. Some butt sets also allow you to generate the A, B, C, and D DTMF tones that are not present on ordinary telephones, and can be used for various network control purposes.

And speaking of color coded cables. The phone company long ago established standard color coding to allow installers to identify quickly cable pairs within a sheath. The one you're most likely to run into uses five primary colors and five secondary colors to identify up to 25 pairs unambigously. The primary colors are white, red, black, yellow, and violet. The secondary colors are blue, orange, green, brown, and slate. White is the primary for the first five pairs, red for the second five pairs, and so on. For each primary, you cycle through the secondaries. So, a standard four-pair cable uses white as the primary, and blue, orange, green, and brown for the secondaries. The two wires in a pair are designated "Tip" and "Ring". Tip uses the primary color with a stripe in the secondary color, and Ring the opposite. So, Tip in the first pair is white with a blue stripe and Ring is blue with a white stripe.

And how can one remember all these color combinations? Well, Ma Bell (in the days before Political Correctness) used to teach their installers to remember the colors by remembering the phrase, "We Rape Beautiful Young Virgins, But Only Girls Beyond Sixteen." I am not making this up.

 


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Thursday, December 24, 1998

Ice storm. Not a particularly bad one, so far, but the forecast is for this to continue through tomorrow night. Only a few people have lost power so far, but that's likely to change quickly as the ice continues to overburden branches and trees. The forecasters are saying that this isn't a major winter storm, so perhaps we'll be lucky. If we do lose power or phone lines, this site may go without an update for a couple of days.

We're having Christmas at our house this year, and Barbara's parents' and sister's houses are all the way across town. That's a 20 or 30 minute trip one-way under normal circumstances, and probably an hour or more when the roads are icy. If the traffic signals lose power, it could be a lot longer. Barbara is going to call them this morning and see if she can talk them into coming over here today and staying through Saturday morning. We'll go get them in one of our 4X4s.

* * * * *

And this from Robert Morgan, which is a continuation of a discussion we were having off-line:

I don't know about the free 2-user version, but $39.95 seems reasonable for a three user home network.

Incidentally, there is no conclusion to my cable modem - linux story. I had an urgent need for a db-backed web server at one of my employer's remote sites, so my linux server has moved on. Sure enough, the Motorola cable modem's reset button does make it forget the MAC, letting me change where the modem is connected. Don't quite know how I'll reconfigure things: currently the modem is connected to my hub but sees the main Win98 workstation, and my laptop plugs into the hub. Running Netbeui on the laptop and the Win98 box lets me move files around, but my web access is limited to the Win98 box. I'd install Wingate on it but I physically don't have room for a second NIC.

The linux server served me well, but I'm not sure if I will replace it. I put in a second fast 10 gig drive on the Win98 box and added another 64 megs of memory, and with Sybase SQL Anywhere running locally I may just leave it at that. One less noise-maker. That leaves my laptop and my wife's laptop. I'd really like a wireless setup for them. Have you looked at any of the wireless lan's recently?

So, to wrap up, I'm really limited to web access on my main machine. It would be nice to figure out a way to give the two laptops access but I'm not going to lose sleep over it.

You're right. Forty bucks is reasonable to provide shared Internet access among three machines on a home network. The old WinGate Lite was even more reasonable, however. It let you share two machines for free. Actually, that product may still be available, because the WinGate downloads page used to include (and still may) the option to download earlier versions. If not, I'm sure that WinGate Lite is available from any number of FTP sites elsewhere on the Internet.

Unless I'm missing something, you don't need a second Ethernet card. Just install WinGate on the machine that has Internet connectivity and assign IP addresses in the same subnet to the other machines. The ISP is apparently filtering packets from all but the IP address assigned to the one connected machine anyway. The other machines can talk to the WinGate server on that IP subnet.

I haven't used any of the wireless products, but perhaps some of my readers can recommend products that work (or ones to steer clear of).

* * * * *

And from Roger G. Smith about butt sets and toners:

Thanks for the explanation. Have wanted this equipment since I first saw it in use, but didn't know what it was called.

Thanks also for the mnemonic for Bell's (everybody's, really) cable color codes. I recall the phrase "Big Boys Rape Our Young Girls, But Violet Goes Willingly" for the resistor color codes, so I'm quite sure you didn't make it up. Although these are rude phrases nowadays, their effectiveness as a memory aid is first rate. I doubt I've read a resistor color code in 20 years, but had no trouble recalling this.

When technical classes went co-ed, instructors of the World War II generation had quite an adjustment to make. Female Electrical Engineers and technicians? Who would have thought? They were shocked.

It was funny watching somebody who'd been teaching the same material for years to all male classes get toungue tied when he remembered (usually just-in-time ;-) that he had females in the class...

Well, they were rude phrases even back then, but all the more memorable for it. Thanks for reminding me of the resistor color codes. I hadn't thought about them since my ham radio days 30 years or so ago.

You can buy a butt set and toner from anyone who sells network cabling or telephone supplies. Be careful, though. I've been told that in some jurisdictions one can be charged with possession of burglar tools if caught with a butt set that you don't have a good explanation for. That seems outrageous, but I've heard that often enough and from enough different sources over the years to believe there must be some truth in it.

Actually, the toner and inductive amp are a good thing to buy. They're not that expensive, and it's fairly hard to make a field expedient replacement for them from things you might have around the house. The butt set is different. A decent butt set will run you $100 to $250, and there's really no need for one. You can make a field-expedient butt set from an ordinary telephone and some alligator clips. The best kind of phone to use is the single-piece ones that you hang up simply by placing the handset flat on a table. Two piece ones are a pain to use.

You can either cut off the end of the modular cable that normally connects to the wall jack and replacing it with alligator clips, or by wiring a cable with clips on it straight into the handset. Internally, most phones use the old "quad" color code, which uses Green, Red, Black, and Yellow for the first two pairs. Green corresponds to pair 1 Tip (white with blue stripe); Red to pair 1 Ring (blue with white stripe); Black to pair 2 Tip (white with orange stripe); and Yellow to pair 2 Ring (orange with white stripe).

 


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Friday, December 25, 1998

Merry Christmas. We got everyone hauled over here yesterday and spent the rest of the day eating. The weather never did turn really bad, although about 20,000 homes were without power for at least part of yesterday. We put Barbara's parents in our bedroom and her sister in the guest bedroom. That kind of discommoded the dogs, who are creatures of habit. We heard a scream from Barbara's mother last night. When she went back to bed, she forgot to latch the bedroom door. Our younger Border Collie, Duncan, normally sleeps on the bed. Just as Barbara's mother got into bed, she heard thundering paws and looked up to find 70 pounds of sheep dog stretched out beside her on his back with his head on her pillow.

I guess it's time to go have breakfast and then start on opening presents.


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Saturday, December 26, 1998

The ice had pretty much dissipated by yesterday evening, so Barbara took her parents and sister home. Everyone agreed that this Christmas was the best yet. A lot of that was because we weren't running all over the place on Christmas Day. I think we'll probably have Barbara's family stay over with us next Christmas Eve even if the weather isn't bad. Even the dogs had a good time, with lots of extra people around to herd and plenty of scraps to eat.

We'll take the rest of this weekend as a holiday, but it'll be back to work on Monday. But I'd better do my normal network backup, which I forgot to do yesterday.


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Sunday, December 27, 1998

Spent this morning doing laundry and catching up on my mail backlog. I hadn't read or responded to much mail since Christmas Eve evening, so I had quite a bit from the night of the 24th through this morning. I had Outlook periodically sucking down the mail from the server, and I'm not sure when it generates return receipts, so some people may have gotten return receipts and wondered if I was ever going to respond. At any rate, the backlog is now pretty much cleared.

* * * * *

And I got the following mail from Maurice or Marilyn McDonell regarding cookies:

I edit them as they come in. A pain but if they are not related to the site I seek, they are refused. Double Click is invasive but it is an automatic reflex action for me to delete them.

I sometimes do that too. In fact, I keep IE setup to prompt for each cookie and Netscape setup to allow all cookies that are sent back to the originating server. Between the two, and by choosing my browser according to which sites I plan to visit, I can usually keep cookies pretty much under control.

I'd intended to reply privately to that message and have tried several times to do so, but keep getting messages that tell me the return address is invalid.

* * * * *

And the following mail from Tom Syroid about the perils of upgrading Windows 98:

I trust your Christmas day was warm and memorable. My morning was grand and full of the kind of excitement that having a four-year-old in the house brings. My afternoon was less so, though, thanks to Gates and Company...

My daughter recieved a new game she wanted to play on the computer. Being as it only played in Win9X, I booted into my Win98 partition for the first time in over a week. A notice appeared that there was a "Critical Update" available from MS's site, so without thinking about it much, I clicked OK to get it and install it (I have MS's automatic update notification installed for Win98). Mistake one. It dutifully downloaded the 2 files -- one was an OLE Automation Fix, the other an IE 'Frame Spoof' security fix -- installed them, and gave the usual reboot notice. Again I dutifully complied. Mistake two. The system rebooted, began initializing the files to start Win98, then promptly registered an invalid page fault (nee GPF) with MSTASK and KERNEL32.DLL, followed by another with RUNDLL32, which very effectively brought my system to its knees. Spelled FUBAR. I rebooted several times -- including a full power down just for good measure -- still clinging to the insane notion that things would fix themselves if just given the opportunity. No joy. With a sign of resignation and my daughter still clinging to her new game and waiting by my side, I inserted my boot disk, formatted the partition, and set to reinstalling Win98 clean. A beer was offically in order. Being as I only use the partition for games and there were no special setups I needed to save, I reasoned it would be faster to redo things than try to figure out what had trashed what. Mistake three. Win98 installed as instructed and I was operational in under an hour, but when I formatted I blew away my NT boot settings and files. And as I use Win98 for games, but NT for my daily sustenance, I had just messed very badly in my own nest. As Pournelle would say... Feh. I managed to restore things file-by-file, edit-by-edit, and reboot-by-reboot, but it was a slow and tedious process and any notions of Goodwill to my Fellow Men was very definately out the window for the afternoon. So much for Tom's Christmas Spirit.

Edit this long-winded story down as you see fit, but remind your readers that just because an update is marked "critical" by Microsoft this does not imply that it is well tested or incapable of trashing your system. I know Pournelle has cautioned us many times about these online updates and what they can do to mess up a system, but I, quite frankly, never expected anything off the critical update list to have the potential to render my system unusable. And up until now, my system has updated any files I've downloaded without trouble or error. I assumed these updates would follow the same pattern. So much for assumption. Now I recognize that this destruction could likely be due to interaction with something unique to my system's setup, and further that I compounded my woes by formatting without engaging my brain, but all this aside, there's no excuse for posting files on an update site that are not thoroughly debugged and tested. I once again wonder aloud how the "average" user deals with such problems; users who do not have the insight or ability to fix such catastrophic errors.

Could you please send me the attribute settings for the NT boot files? I copied them piecemeal from the CDROM, so they clean and currently exposed to damage. I know BOOT.INI is +S +H +R, but what about NTLDR and NTDETECT.COM? I assume I've got all the files I need in the right places because my system boots correctly into everything on the menu, but if I've neglected something please let me know.

PS: I've been in contact with your editor and look forward to working with you after the holidays are out of the way.

Sorry. I haven't been checking my mail much the last couple of days. Autoexec.bat, Config.sys, and pagefile.sys are normal files. Boot.ini is RS. Io.sys, Msdos.sys, Ntdetect.com and Ntldr are all RHS. Thanks for volunteering. The last time I talked to him, Robert said he'd already gotten half a dozen or so responses, so we'll see what happens.

 



Coming Soon (I hope)

Here are some things that are currently on my to-do list. I may start some of them this coming month. It may be a while before I start on some of the others, either because I don't yet have everything I need, because interdependencies make it necessary to do other things first, or simply because other work takes priority. But I'll get to all of them eventually.

 

 

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