Week of 1/11/99
Friday, July 05, 2002 08:18
A (mostly) daily
journal of the trials, tribulations, and random observations of Robert
Bruce Thompson, a writer of computer books.
January 11, 1999
This week is the first Daynotes page that uses the new format suggested
by Bo Leuf. Actually, it shouldn't look any different than the old format,
but it should load quicker. Bo suggested that, rather than use one big
two-column by seven-row table to contain the week's entries, I should use
seven separate two-column by one-row tables, one for each day. The old
way, the entire page/table had to load and render before you saw anything
but a blank page. The new way, the tables near the top of the page can
load and render while the tables for the later days are still loading in
the background. So, Monday should be visible while the remaining days are
still downloading. In theory, anyway. I understand that not all browsers
will work that way.
And I've also gone back to including the time this page was last
modified, as well as the date. Apparently, browsers vary (depending on the
browser itself and its settings) as to what occurs when you do a refresh.
Some browsers do not clear the text from the page unless that text has
actually been updated. Internet Explorer 4.01 works this way for me.
Others clear the existing text even if that text has not been updated.
Navigator 4.05 works that way for me. Some readers tell me that they use
the behavior of this refresh redraw to tell if I've updated the page or
not since the last time they loaded it. I normally update this page only
once a day, usually around 9:00 EST, but I do sometimes update it half a
dozen times or more during a day. Since the refresh redraw behavior is not
a reliable indication of new material when using some browsers, I'll go
ahead and include a timestamp, which will change only if the page has been
And that brings up the subject of time zones. When I first started
creating pages with timestamps, I set properties for the FrontPage
timestamp bot that should have caused it to display the time zone along
with the time. I live in Eastern Time, but my web provider is Pacific
time. If I updated and published a page at, say, 9:00 a.m. my time, that
page when published should have displayed the 6:00 a.m. local time at the
server. I could have lived with that discrepancy. What I couldn't live
with was that attempting to use the timezone display caused various
problems, including pages not displaying properly and my local copy of
FrontPage crashing. So you'll just have to take into account that the time
that shows on this page is really Pacific time rather than my time.
* * * * *
I read six or eight novels and mysteries last week, and did come up
with a Book of the Week. Actually, a Series of the Week. But before I talk
about that, I wanted to mention another book by a big-name author that I
found disappointing. Dean Koontz's latest, Seize the Night, a
sequel to Fear Nothing, is the big disappointment this week. The
protagonist of both books is Chris Snow, who suffers from the rare genetic
disorder xeroderma pigmentosum. XP sufferers must avoid any but very low
intensity light, such as moonlight or candlelight, so Snow wanders the
night in Moonlight Bay, a superficially normal little town with a
monstrous underlying evil that originates at the recently closed Fort
Wyvern military base.
This book will undoubtedly sell in huge numbers--it sits at #15 on
Amazon.com as I write this--but it's not Koontz's best work. Koontz at his
best--works like Dark Rivers of the Heart--writes in a
combination of the thriller/horror/science fiction genres with a
libertarian slant. In these newer books, he's departed into the fantasy
realm. Although he's often used genetic engineering gone wrong and evil
government employees running rampant as plot devices in the past, in these
books they become deus ex machina. Nothing is too incredible or impossible
to be attributed to one or the other. A genetically engineered smart dog
is one thing. He's used this plot device frequently before, and it holds
up as a marginally credible future possibility given the current state of
genetic engineering. But the demons, monsters, changelings, and
shape-changers he builds the plots of these latest books around are simply
fantasy, and not good fantasy at that. Check this one out at the library
before you decide to buy it for your collection.
The Book of the Week, is
Bruce Alexander's Sir John Fielding series of historical mystery novels.
These books are set in mid 18th century London, where Sir John Fielding (a
historical figure) has assumed the magistracy formerly held by his late
brother, Henry Fielding, the author of Tom Jones, a milestone in
the history of the English novel. Sir John is blind, and is aided in his
inquiries by Jeremy Proctor, a teenage boy that Sir John has rescued from
the streets and made a member of his household. The setting and dialog are
authentic, the plots are well crafted, and the books are a delight to
read. With this series, Alexander does for Georgian London what Anne Perry
does for mid- and late-Victorian London in her William Monk and Thomas
Pitt series, respectively. There are currently five books in the Sir John
Fielding series. From first to latest, they are:
I read the middle three this week, in no particular order. Although
each book stands well on its own, you'd be better advised to read them in
sequence. Highly recommended.
Now back to work on the book...
The hard drive in freya/mandy (my 486 clone Linux/Win95 test bed
system) has started making nasty whirring noises sporadically. The drive
is a Western Digital 1GB Caviar unit that's perhaps two years old. I can't
say I'm particularly surprised, because the drive has been exhibiting some
bad symptoms for several months now. Although I use the system
infrequently enough that it'd make sense to keep it powered down except
when I need to use it, I keep it powered up. I do this because it
sometimes fails to boot to the hard disk, although the hard disk has been
running reliably once I get past the boot problem. Sounds like the old
"stiction" problem that was relatively common back in the
That system sits on my credenza (actually a $30 folding church table
from Office Depot), along with an old Gateway 386 NetWare 3.12 server, a
scanner, and a JVC CD player. I think what I'll do is convert that table
to my lab bench--move the CD player to my main desk, relocate the scanner
to Barbara's office, and store the NetWare server in the closet where old
PCs go to die. That'll give me a flat surface accessible from both front
and back that I can use as a lab bench for building and testing PCs and
Come to think of it, I may install one of these Maxtor DiamondMax Plus
2500 10 GB drives in that old 486, just to see how well (or how badly) an
old BIOS supports a drive larger than 8.4 GB.
The mail arrived, and with it a box from Edward
R. Hamilton Bookseller. If you're a reader and you don't know about
this company, you should. They sell a huge selection of remaindered books
at anything up to 90% off list price, as well as a limited number of
current titles, typically at 20% to 30% off list price. I just got nine
hardback books for about fifty bucks, including shipping. The web site
doesn't have all the titles that appear in the paper catalog (or vice
versa), but I don't have time nowadays to page through their
newspaper-size catalog looking for books that are sorted only into general
categories. The web site makes it easy to search by author or title.
They're old fashioned in a lot of ways, which is why it surprised me
when they opened their web site a year or two ago. They don't accept
credit cards. You print out or hand write your order form and snail-mail
it to them with a check for the amount due for the books you've chosen
plus $3 for shipping. A week or so later, your books show up via
snail-mail. If any of the books you've ordered is no longer available,
they send you a refund check for the difference. Barbara and I have been
buying from them for probably 15 years or more now, and have never had a
problem. Highly recommended.
UPS just showed up with a box from O'Reilly. When I opened it, I found two
copies of a foreign language edition of Windows
NT Server 4.0 for NetWare Administrators, although it wasn't
immediately clear to me which language they were in. From looking at the
cover it was obvious that it was some sort of Eastern European language,
but it wasn't clear which of those it might be. After opening the book, I
could at least rule out Russian, because the characters were Western
rather than Cyrillic, although they were Western with some oddities.
Barbara (the former librarian) checked the title page and found Warsaw,
1998. This is the first time I've ever seen any book written in Polish,
let alone one of my own. It's kind of fascinating to look at a page, know
approximately what I'd written there, and still have no idea what that
page says. If they'd sent me the German edition, I'd at least have some
hope of reading it at least in part.
January 12, 1999
Barbara's group health insurance from her former job expires on 31
January. When she attended her exit interview at the end of the year, the
Personnel folks told her that she could continue it under COBRA, for a
mere $500 per month or so. They said that if she wanted to continue it
beyond 1/31/99, she had to have a check to them by 1/20. We'd applied to
Blue Cross / Blue Shield for their individual Blue Advantage program back
in mid-December. Apparently, it typically takes 35 days to go through the
application process, medical underwriting, and so on. The guy there told
me when I submitted the application to give him a call soon after the 1st
of the year to verify that things were progressing.
So I called him early this month to follow-up. He told me at the time
that they were always swamped at the first of the year, and that they
always brought in temporary help to clear the backlog. I mentioned the
1/20 deadline to him then, and he told me that there was a 99% chance that
the application would be through underwriting and approved by then. He
suggested that I follow-up yesterday, so I set my calendar to remind me.
When I talked to the Blue Cross/Blue Shield guy yesterday, he told me
that the application hadn't even been assigned to an underwriter yet, and
that there was "no chance" that it would be processed before
1/20. I told him that I really didn't want to pay $500 to extend coverage
under COBRA for another month if I could avoid doing so. He told me that
what I chose to do was up to me, but that there was no way I could expect
them to finish processing our application before the end of the month.
So I called the Forsyth County Personnel department this afternoon. As
it turns out, our insurance does lapse 1/31 if we don't get a check to
them by 1/20, but that's not a problem. We can simply allow the insurance
to lapse. Then, if one of us ends up hospitalized or whatever, we can
retroactively activate that insurance simply by paying the back premium
due. This can be done at any time up until 60 days following the date that
the coverage lapsed. So it appears that we can simply allow the existing
policy to lapse. Blue Cross should certainly have approved or disapproved
our application well before then. Even if they refuse to accept us, which
I don't think will happen, that 60 days should give us time to go to
another insurance company.
I hate dealing with stuff like this. It's like getting into a card game
that you've never played before, don't know the rules to, and will be
playing with others that play it full time for a living. As someone said,
the game is fixed, you can't win, but it's the only game in town...
* * * * *
And my O'Reilly & Associates business cards showed up last night
via UPS. Actually, UPS dropped them at a neighbor's house, and he dropped
them here. It's really nice to work with people who remember the small
stuff for you. I had one example of that from O'Reilly earlier in the day
when the Polish edition showed up. I'd asked my editor some time ago if
they could send me copies of foreign editions of my books as they came
out. My editor was a bit surprised. Apparently, most authors don't want
still more comp copies in languages they don't speak. But I just wanted to
see what they looked like. I'd completely forgotten that request until the
Polish copies showed up, but O'Reilly hadn't.
The business card thing started when Jerry Pournelle suggested I should
start going to Comdex, which I've avoided like the proverbial plague. He
said it was a great place to make contacts with hardware vendors. The
problem with sweet-talking hardware vendors out of evaluation units is
establishing your credibility. In one sense, that's not a problem. I can
point to my existing books on Amazon.com, or on the O'Reilly web site for
that matter. But it's still easier to establish your bona fides
with hardware vendors if you have something a little more impressive than
a free-lancer's business card to hand them. A month or so back, I asked my
O'Reilly editor if I could get some O'Reilly business cards, and then
promptly forgot the whole matter. Today, they showed up.
The one pasted to the box had an owl on it. When I pulled one out from
the front of the box, it had a fish on it. I didn't realize until I
flipped through the box that there's an assortment of animals. I can give
people a koala or a camel, among others. Perhaps I can match the animal I
hand out to the person I'm giving the card to. At any rate, O'Reilly are
very nice people to work with. It's been my experience that people who
work to get the small things right usually get the big things right as
* * * * *
And I got my credenza cleaned off and ready to be a lab bench. My
NetWare 3.12 server, theodore, an old Gateway 386 system with a
monochrome monitor, is now sitting on the floor of my office. Other than
for infrequent cleanings, upgrades, and similar brief periods of down
time, that's the first time it's been disconnected since I bought it in
February of 1991. Almost 8 years without a break. Not bad. But I no longer
need a NetWare server to be running routinely, so away it goes...
January 13, 1999
My mother went in for oral surgery yesterday. At age 80, she's finally
going to get dentures. She has to go back the first of next month to have
some more teeth removed, and then she has to wait toothless for a couple
of months or so for her jaw to shrink back to its eventual final size
before they can fit the dentures. Barbara took her to the dentist after
lunch yesterday. When they returned a couple of hours later, we got her
settled in with ice and gauze pads. She'll be having ice cream, applesauce
and similar things to eat for quite a while. Our bedroom is at the far end
of the house, so I slept on the sofa in the den last night in case she
needed help during the night. I woke up at every small sound, so I didn't
get much sleep.
* * * * *
And I really must do something about the hard disk in mandy/freya.
I was sitting here working away when I heard what I thought was tires
squealing from someone clamping on the brakes in a panic stop. I fully
expected to hear the loud crash-bang-tinkle that usually follows such a
noise. As it turned out, there were no cars involved. It was that hard
disk. A hard disk that sounds like an incipient car wreck can't be long
for this world.
It's a Western Digital Caviar, so I can't say I'm surprised. I've had
more problems with the Western Digital hard drives over the years than
with any others I've used. Granted, this is a very small sample size, so
I'm sure that no statistically valid general conclusions can be drawn from
my personal experience. Many people swear by the WD Caviars--I know people
who won't buy anything else--but I've just not had much luck with them. At
one point (I've since discarded most of them), I had a collection of dead
Caviars in a range of sizes including 85, 200, 340, 730, 850 MB, etc. Now,
I go through a lot of drives compared to most people, but that's still an
extraordinary number of dead drives.
A year or so ago I started buying Seagates instead, and I haven't had
any problems with any of them yet. But the reason I started buying Western
Digitals in the first place was because of the bad experiences I'd had
with Seagates back before IDE drives became common. At one point, I had a
big stack of dead Seagates--ST225s, ST238Rs, ST4096s, etc. Back then,
drives failed much more often than they do now. I kept a stack of dead
drives because the failed units were about equally likely to have had bad
electronics or a bad HDA. Periodically, I'd play mix and match, tearing
the drives apart and using the electronics from one and the HDA from
another to assemble one working drive. It's amazing now to remember the
lengths I'd go to then to salvage a 20 or 80 MB disk drive. Back then,
that was an important amount of disk space. Now, I have something close to
100,000 MB of disk storage in my house. Things change.
And I was wrong about not having used a Maxtor drive since the 40/80 MB
IDE days. In fact, I have a Maxtor 120 MB IDE drive running in my
voicemail/automated attendant PC. It's an old 386SX/16 system with 2 MB
RAM that my friend Steve Tucker gave me years ago. It's been running
pretty much continuously for the last six or eight years with no problems
whatsoever. I'd forgotten completely about that one.
January 14, 1999
The bill from InterNIC for my domain name arrived yesterday. As usual,
I'll pay it, but it's one of those annual aggravations. Not like doing my
taxes, and for $35 it's not worth expending too much anger on. But still,
if the U.S. government wanted to stop providing subsidized
"free" domain name services, you'd think they could have done
better than transfer their power to one private company, granting it
monopoly rights without the traditional constraints that government puts
on other fiat monopolies. What particularly aggravates me is that I paid
my bill last year less than a week before they reduced the price from
$50/year to $35/year, and I marked it as being paid under protest. You'd
think they could at least have extended the term from 12 months to 15 or
16 months. But no. I paid $50 for 12 months, while someone who paid one
week later paid only $35 for the same 12 months. What's really aggravating
is that if I'd waited and paid the bill late, they would have accepted
* * * * *
And this from Joseph Minotti:
Hello Robert, how are you? I visited your
site & enjoyed it. I have a question, if you don't mind.
I'm interested in making my own booklets-8
1/2 x11 folded in half (chapbooks) I have Microsoft Word 97 &
someone told me to use that instead of buying expensive software. They
said go to page setup, click Landscape, then make 2 columns.
I did that, but what happens is when you
fold the paper in the shape of a booklet after I print is the words are
on the front & back. There must be a way that I can type my words on
the inside, you know, just like when you read a book.
Can you give me any suggestions, am I better
off buying software? Hope you can help? Thank you for your time.
I don't have any direct experience with this, but there are
two problems you need to resolve. First, obviously, is that you need to
print on both sides of the paper. If you don't have a duplex printer, this
is easy enough to accomplish simply by running the sheet through twice.
The real problem is getting the pages printed in the proper places. For
example, if you want to use two 8.5X11 sheets folded to 8.5X5.5 to make an
eight page booklet, you need to print the pages, left to right, in the
order 8+1 on page one, side one; 2+7 on page 1, side two; 6+3 on page two,
side one; and 4+5 on page two, side two.
Although you can obviously print landscape with two columns
and using manual page placement, there are any number of free and
shareware products that do the layout for you. I'd suggest that you hit
www.shareware.com and search for "booklet". I found numerous
products, one of which should do the job you need to do. I'll also post
this on the web site in case anyone has any advice for you.
* * * * *
And this from Robin Gould:
Is there any info on your site about
installing sound cards under Windows NT? I have an (admittedly cheap)
motherboard with built-in sound, and the drivers are giving me fits
trying to install them. I keep getting an "unexpected error"
message. P.S. I don't expect a detailed answer, and if you would rather
steer me towards books on the subject or a website I'd still be very
grateful for your help.
Yes, installing sound under Windows NT can be a pain,
particularly for embedded sound cards. The best way to proceed depends a
lot on what type of motherboard you have. I'd take the following general
- If you haven't done so already, check the motherboard
web site for updated sound drivers.
- If there is no web site or it doesn't have any later
sound drivers, check the sound card manufacturer's web site for
generic drivers. There may be several drivers available, and you may
well try all of them only to find that none work.
- As a last resort, find out which chipset and BIOS your
motherboard uses and try to find another make of motherboard that uses
the same chipset, a similar (preferably identical) BIOS, and the same
embedded sound. You can check www.motherboard.com,
www.motherboards.com (different sites), and the individual motherboard
manufacturer web sites to locate a similar board. Download any recent
drivers you find for similar motherboards and try them. They probably
won't work, because minor differences are enough to cause real
problems. For example, a friend of mine just bought an Intel Seattle
SE440BX motherboard from the Ebay auction site. But rather than being
a pure Intel product, it was a Seattle with a BIOS that Micron had
made minor tweaks to. To make a long story short, the sound drivers
from the Intel site didn't work. He downloaded the sound drivers from
Micron, and they worked fine.
If none of that works, which it probably won't, the best
bet is to disable the embedded sound card and install a real sound card.
You can pick up a genuine Creative Labs SoundBlaster 64 for fifty bucks or
so, which would solve your problem quickly. Good luck.
* * * * *
And this from Robert Morgan:
I was never able to make Wingate work with
just one network card. Even though the second machine gets an ip address
from my service provider's DCHP server, I could never ping between the
first and second machine.
So when the fan in the power supply of my
Win98 machine died, I caved in, bought an ATX motherboard with two more
pci slots, and put in a second network card. Now everything works.
I remembered a couple weeks ago on Jerry's
mail page a letter about Sygate (www.sygate.com). I don't need a proxy
server at home, so I tried Sygate, which implements network address
translation and a mini-DHCP server. Pricing is $49 for three users, with
a trial version available which limits your clients to 75 megs of
downloads before requiring registration. So far, so good.
Did you ever get any mail about your
readers' experiences with wireless networking?
Yes, I remember that item about Sygate. At the time, I
meant to look into it, but the press of other things has prevented me from
doing so. As you probably know, but others may not, WinGate is a proxy
server, while Sygate is a Network Address Translator (NAT). I wasn't aware
until I saw that message that anyone was shipping a software NAT intended
for use by individuals and small businesses. NATs have some real
advantages over proxy servers when it comes to ease of configuration and
simplicity of use, but they also have some drawbacks, particularly those
related to mapping multiple private IP addresses to a single public IP
address and resulting TCP port conflict issues. There are ways to get
around that, however, and I suspect that Sygate uses them.
And, no, I never heard a single word from any of my readers
about wireless networking.
January 15, 1999
Still hard at work on the chapter. Barbara is helping me now. She's
working on stuff that's time-consuming for me to do. Right now, for
example, she's tracking down details on various Socket 7 chipsets. There's
a surprising amount of misinformation, conflicting information, and just
plain missing information about stuff like this, but it's important.
* * * * *
And the following from Dave Farquhar:
I read with interest the query about sound
cards under Windows NT. I've had better luck with Creative's PCI sound
cards (the ones based on Ensoniq chips) than I have had with their ISA
cards. So a Sound Blaster PCI 64 will be more likely to get up and
running quickly than an ISA SB64.
The Creative ISA cards will work with enough
determination, but sometimes you have to jump through a lot of hoops.
The Ensoniq-based cards like the PCI64 and the AudioPCI tend to run
right away. Since NT tends to make pretty generic use of sound cards, it
seems to make sense not to pay the big bucks for a really fancy card. By
the time NT's finally able to use its advanced features, there's likely
to be something far better for less.
I've also had pretty good luck with the
low-end Diamond PCI sound cards under NT (when the vendor shipped the
right drivers, that is). I don't know if the Diamond S70 and S90 cards
are still available, but the S70 worked well in a couple of NT boxes I
built a few months ago.
At work we recently acquired a batch of
Micron computers that used a Yamaha chipset on the motherboard, and
those machines installed quickly. (We tend to blow away the factory
pre-load and install the first system from scratch, then clone the
remaining systems with a standard configuration using Norton Ghost.)
It would be nice if vendors (or Microsoft --
it's hard to figure out who's to blame) would get on the ball and get
the good sound cards running under NT. NT's better stability and
increased performance would be a boon for multimedia development if it
had comparable multimedia abilities to its siblings...
I hope this helps some of the folks
struggling with NT sound out there.
Good points, all. And your mention of ISA sound cards
brings up something I should have mentioned originally. Windows NT doesn't
recognize ISA PnP cards by default. In order to have Windows NT recognize
them and load the drivers, you have to run the file Pnpisa.inf, located on
the distribution CD. Doing that loads the Pnpisa driver, after which NT
will detect the sound card and install the proper drivers. But unless you
install Pnpisa, you can go nuts trying to figure out why NT won't
recognize the card or load the drivers for it. I described this process in
Juggling Windows NT Servers,
which I should also have pointed to in my original response.
* * * * *
And this from Anthony Guido:
Very nice site. I'm telling all my friends
about it. I hope you can help me with a problem. I needed to buy a
bigger hard drive to replace my 1.6 GB drive. You said good things about
the Maxtor drives so I went out and bought a 10 GB one. I installed it
but I can only get it to see 8 GB. What am I doing wrong? Thanks in
advance if you can help.
Thanks for the kind words. I hope all my readers tell their
friends about this site.
As far as your problem, you're not doing anything wrong. It
sounds like you've run up against the 8.4 GB limitation caused by system
BIOSs that don't support extended Int13 functions. Basically, all but the
most recent BIOSs are limited to 16,383 cylinders, 16 heads, and 63
sectors per track. Using standard 512-byte sectors, that translates to a
maximum hard drive size of about 8.4 GB.
The major BIOS manufacturers fixed this problem by adding
support for extended Int13 functions, but only recently. AMI BIOSs dated
later than 1/1/98 have the fixes, as do Award BIOSs dated 11/97 or later,
and Phoenix BIOSs that are Version 4, Revision 6 or later (all Phoenix
BIOSs are Version 4, it's the Revision level that's important). Note that
these dates and versions reflect the earliest times that the BIOS vendors
patched their core code. Some versions of these fixed BIOSs implemented by
computer and motherboard manufacturers may not have the fixes in place,
even though the BIOS date or version indicates that they should.
The best solution to your problem is to update your BIOS.
The fact that it recognizes 8 GB indicates that you probably have a
reasonably recent machine, so you'll be able to update the BIOS just by
downloading and applying a flash BIOS update. Make sure that you get
exactly the right BIOS update for you computer. Get it from the computer
manufacturer's web site, and follow all instructions EXACTLY.
Using the wrong flash BIOS update file or not following the
proper procedures can render your system unbootable and unable to even
recognize the floppy drive. The procedures vary by system, but basically
you'll probably download the BIOS update file, copy it to a floppy disk,
temporarily set a jumper on the motherboard to enable the flash update,
boot with the flash update floppy, and then set the jumper back where it
was. When you reboot, the system should recognize the full capacity of
your hard disk.
If you are uncomfortable updating your BIOS (and it is
dangerous to do so unless you make sure to get everything exactly right
before you start), or if you can't locate a BIOS update for your computer,
there is an alternative. Maxtor provides MaxBlast software, which is a
driver that allows a system with an older BIOS to use large drives. You'll
need to set a jumper on the drive itself, and follow all of the
instructions. Good luck.
January 16, 1999
My service provider has been having horrendous network problems the
last couple of days, and as a result mail has not been getting to me
reliably. The problems are supposedly fixed now, but I suspect many
messages have been lost completely. I know that some test messages I sent
to myself and other ttgnet.com accounts still have not showed up here, so
I suspect that quite a bit of reader mail is also lost in the ether. I
always respond to mail, if only sometimes with a one word acknowledgement.
So if you've sent me mail and haven't gotten any reply, please send it
And that brings up the subject of the kinds of mail I'm getting. In an
average week, I may get between fifty and one hundred messages requesting
help or advice of one sort or another. In the last couple of days (and
this when I'm getting hardly any mail at all), I've gotten requests for
help with everything from setting up NT domain controllers to resolving
obscure TCP/IP network problems to choosing a video card for a game system
to recommending a screenwriting package.
Some of these are of general interest, and so I post them here with a
detailed response. Others are not of general interest, but I can answer
them off the top of my head, or at worst by spending a couple minutes
looking something up. Those I answer privately. Sometimes a request
involves a lot of work, but I take the time to find the information simply
because it's something that I really should know anyhow.
But some of the messages amount to thinly veiled requests by businesses
for free consulting, asking me to resolve problems specific to a
particular environment or to recommend products based on a detailed list
of requirements. There's not much I can do about requests of this nature.
Surely no one can reasonably expect me to donate hours of my time to solve
their business computing problems. And yet, that's apparently what some
people do expect. Those people get a return message thanking them for
inquiring about my consulting services, and explaining that I charge $250
per hour with a four hour minimum, and that I require an applied retainer
to be paid in advance. Most of them suddenly decide that getting the
answers to their questions really wasn't all that important.
I always find it amazing that many business people who understand that
lawyers charge $150 to $250 per hour are invariably shocked to find that
computer networking experts have similar hourly rates. I talked to one guy
about a project that would have taken me a day or two to complete. I told
him that it would cost him something near $3,000 to $4,000 for my
services. He told me that he could hire a kid from the local community
college to do the work for $15 per hour, and offered to pay me $25 per
hour. I happened to hear later that the project had failed miserably after
several months of false starts and restarts. The guy ended up spending
more money, wasting months, and still didn't have a working project.
So, if your message is of a personal or hobbyist nature, please don't
hesitate to send it. At worst, I'll respond privately to say that I don't
know enough to help you, and at best I may have something useful to tell
you. And if you're seriously looking for consulting services and are
willing to pay the market price, please don't hesitate to mail me about
your needs. If I can't help you, I may know someone who can. But if you're
looking for free consulting, please don't waste your time or mine.
* * * * *
And the following from Gary M. Berg:
I'm considering moving around the hard drive
on my current home Win95 system. Home-built system with an Asus TX-97E
motherboard, P200MMX, 64Mb of RAM. I'm getting tired on Win95 crashes
which my wife keeps running into, and was trying to decide how to
migrate to NT4 as a more stable platform for her.
Obviously, a new system is the
"easiest" approach, but I only bought the P200 15 months ago
and it's completely adequate for what she wants to do.
I currently have one large FAT32 partition
on a WD 6.4Gb drive. I used the SUBST command to create
"pseudo" drives D: and E:; D: is data and E: is mostly old DOS
apps which I originally set up running off of E: and it's easier to
leave them there - too many batch files, too little time <g>.
What I'd like to do is to gradually migrate
myself from my current Win95 installation to WinNT. Being able to
continue to use the old Win95 installation until I have time to get
everything installed and working under NT4, over a period of several
What I'm considering doing is:
a) Shrink the size of that one FAT32
partition so that it's about 2.5Gb using PM 3.04.
b) Create a real D: and E: partitions in an
extended partition. Make them FAT16.
c) Copy the files from the "fake"
D&E to the real ones and dump the SUBST commands. This should give
me a system which is actually partitioned. NT couldn't read the FAT32 C:
drive, but could read D: and E:.
d) I'm not too sure on this - go buy an 8Gb
or more EIDE drive and put it in as master and leave the old 6.4Gb drive
as slave. I'd like to go bigger but I wonder if my current bios can deal
with a drive larger than 8Gb. I might be able to update the bios for a
bigger drive (advantage of an Asus motherboard). Currently space is not
an issue, so it might make sense to go cheaper on the new drive anyway.
e) Unfortunately, the NT boot manager would
be unable to see the FAT32 Win95 partition for an NT multi-boot, so
install the Partition Magic boot manager on the new drive.
f) Install NT4 to the new drive in a 2Gb
NTFS partition. Attack it with SP4, etc. Remember that Drive Image is my
friend and save often<g>.
g) Create partitions on the new drive for D:
and E:. Use the disk management utility in NT to put the D: someplace
out of the way (letting the earlier D: show through), but leave the new
E: in place and use it to install all of the stuff like Office 97 and
such. The normal data on my current "E:" is very static, so I
think I can just do a one-time copy and then leave it. This should mean
that under NT I'll have an NTFS C:, FAT16 D: from drive 2, and an NTFS
E: for programs and such. Under Win95, the partitions from the original
drive should be there for C: and E:, and the FAT16 D: from drive 2 will
still show through. I might be able to avoid creating the real E: on the
original drive depending on whether or not I'll have space on the real
D: to temporarily copy it to get it to the NTFS stuff.
If I use BM to transfer control to the Win95
partition on the old drive running as slave (drive 2), will it boot
I currently have my LPT1 and LPT2 sharing an
interrupt (or else LPT2 has none). Can that work with NT4?
Drivers look to be OK; it looks like all of
my devices have NT drivers.
The end goal is to get this machine running
under NT4, SP4 for everything. Once I got all of the apps installed
under NT4 I'd switch the system to boot NT4 by default instead of Win95.
All of the documents would transfer invisibly, and we should have a more
I sent Gary mail to verify that he had a tape drive available to do a
complete backup, and he responded:
Yes, I have a tape drive. But I'd rather do
a gradual migration as I suggested, over the course of a couple of
weeks. And keep the convention that D: is data, for example.
To which I replied:
Okay, I've been this route before, and here's what I'd
1. Do a complete backup of your drive. Come to think of it,
do two. I'm not sure how much of your 6 GB drive is currently used, but
I'll assume you have enough free space to do the following.
2. Use Partition Magic 3.x to repartition the drive as you
described, but rather than just creating two new partitions, create just
one extended partition, but create three logical volumes in that extended
partition. The first two will be the D: and E: volumes you want, and the
third one will hold Windows NT. I'd make it at least 500 MB if you have
the space, but 200 MB would do in a pinch.
3. Format D: and E: as FAT16, and move the stuff that's
currently SUBST'd to the actual D: and E: volumes. Test to make sure that
everything works as expected, and then make still another backup on a new
tape, this one of just C:. Make a Startup Disk that contains your CD-ROM
drivers, and boot with that Startup Disk to make sure you can access the
hard drive and the CD with it. Also make sure that diskette has format and
fdisk on it.
4. You really want the first partition on the first drive
to be FAT16. I can't remember if PM 3.x will convert a FAT32 volume to
FAT16. If so, use it to convert C: to FAT16, or else upgrade to PM4, which
does do FAT32 to FAT16 conversions. Otherwise, boot the Startup floppy and
use it to reformat C: as FAT16 and then reinstall Windows and your backup
software and restore your backup of C:. At this point, you have three
volumes on the first drive, C:, D:, and E:, all FAT16, and one unformatted
segment of free space.
5. Boot the Windows NT startup floppy 1 and install Windows
NT. When it gets to the point where it asks you where to install it, point
it to the free space you left on the extended partition. You can tell it
to format that space either FAT or NTFS. It doesn't matter which, although
NTFS will give you better security and performance. But no matter which
you choose, it won't affect your C:, D: and E: drive letter assignments.
And installing NT on a system that already has a FAT16 Win95 installation
that NT can see on C: will automatically install dual-boot support.
6. Once you get NT installed, you can gradually re-install
your applications, pointing them to the same location where they currently
reside. For example, if you have Office 97 currently installed for Windows
95 in C:\Program Files\Office, you can reinstall it under Windows NT and
tell it to install to that same directory. That way, essentially all the
installation procedure does is update the Windows NT registry with the
necessary entries to support Office 97 under NT. But you don't use the
extra disk space that would be needed for a second actual installation.
7. When you're ready to dump Win95, just delete it from C:.
Don't format the drive, however, or you'll also kill the NT boot files.
Also, note that NT's terminology is bass-ackwards. They call the partition
that NT actually boots from (C:) the system partition, and the partition
where the NT operating files reside the boot partition.
8. If you still want to add the hard drive for more disk
space, install it as the master on your secondary ATA interface and use NT
Disk Administrator to create one big primary partition on it and format
the whole thing as one NTFS volume. Since your system already supports a
6.4 GB drive, you shouldn't have any problems with a drive up to 8.4 GB.
If the system is 15 months old, however, it's almost certain that the BIOS
won't support drives larger than 8.4 GB. You need to install a flash BIOS
update that has support for extended Int13 if you want to use anything
larger than 8.4 GB.
A couple of other issues you mentioned:
a. Win95 needs to reside on the first physical drive on the
system, i.e. the one jumpered as master on the primary ATA interface. You
also need to have the NT system partition on that drive (the one NT boots
from, and that contains NTLDR), but the boot partition (the one that
contains \WinNT) can be anywhere.
b. As far as interrupts, NT does unfortunately require that
each LPT port be assigned its own IRQ.
* * * * *
Lunch time: A
lot of mail has started to come in. I was going to put off posting it
until tomorrow, but I think I'll get it out of the way now and take
tomorrow off. First off, the following response to my rant about free
consulting, this from someone who wishes to remain anonymous:
Four grand for two days work? That's
disgusting. I have a college degree and worked hard all my life and have
never made that much in a month. If you charge two grand a day that
means you make half a million bucks a year. That's too much.
Who put you in charge of deciding how much I'm worth? As it
happens, I think that what some people are paid is ridiculous, but that's
called the market. If tall guys who can barely read but play a children's
game very well can be paid multi-million dollar annual salaries, that's
because people are willing to pay enough to watch them play to make those
salaries worth paying.
But the truth is that computer consultants don't make
anywhere near the annual salary you've calculated. In the first place,
there's a big difference between hours worked and hours you can bill. It's
not uncommon to work two or three times the number of hours for a client
that you can actually bill to that client. In the second place, just
staying current on the technologies occupies a lot of time that can't be
billed to clients. In the third place, business development and marketing
activities, taking care of one's own business, and other non-billable
activities take a substantial chunk of time. In the fourth place, many
consultants charge different rates according to the nature of the
services. For example, I might charge a large corporation $250/hr for
designing an internetwork, a small business $125/hr or $150/hr for
installing and configuring a Windows NT network, and a favorite non-profit
or charity $0/hr for a few hours of help they desperately need.
Most self-employed consultants I know actually bill
something between 500 and 1,000 hours per year after false starts,
write-downs, and write-offs, and by no means all of that is at their
highest rate. At typical billing rates, that means they're grossing
somewhere between $60,000 and $175,000 annually. From that, everything
must be paid for.
A self-employed consultant has to pay for health insurance
and other benefits, the employer portion of social security, and all the
other things that an employee gets as a part of the deal. A typical
employee who grosses $100,000 annually actually costs his employer
somewhere around $130,000 to $140,000 in direct payroll costs, plus the
costs of providing office space, utilities, supplies, equipment, books and
subscriptions, Internet services, etc. The consultant has to pay for all
of this himself.
The upshot is that most independent consulants I know
charge $125 to $250 per hour and end up with a paycheck equivalent between
$40,000 and $125,000 per year. Decent money, certainly, but nothing like
what you believe, and probably not as much as they would make, given their
skills, if they took a full-time conventional job.
* * * * *
But Rick Boatright says:
Yep, "I can get it done by a college
kid for $100"
Fine, go find one. I'm 45, I have a staff, a
house payment, internet connectivity charges on the order of $100 / mo,
I need expensive computers, my kids are going to college, and etc.
I charge $120 / hr, 4 hour minimum, but I'm
in Kansas and am not a published author, and those are pretty fair
market rates. Stick by your guns.
Exactly. And what invariably happens is that the job
doesn't get done on time, if at all. If it gets done, it doesn't get done
right. And the client usually ends up wasting a lot of money doing the
wrong things and buying the wrong equipment. I've had people come back to
me after such butchered projects and plead with me to take over on my
original terms. I nearly always refuse nowadays to come in and clean up
the mess. I used to take on such rescue efforts, but I quickly learned
that what usually happens is that they don't understand sunk costs and
expect me to make things work the way they want them to work by using the
wrong equipment they'd bought or whatever. It's just not worth the
* * * * *
And how could I not publish the following message from Al Palmer? It's
about the first book I ever contributed to, Upgrading and Repairing
Networks, and has my comments embedded with the text:
My name is Al Palmer. I am an Electronics
Instructor at a technical school in W. Hartford, CT and I presently
teach Electronics, Computer Technology and Networking. The
above-mentioned book that you co-authored is one of my favorite...no, it
is my favorite reference manual. I think that it is very comprehensive
and at the same time user-friendly. Well Done!
Thanks for the kind words. But I really didn't have a lot
to do with that book. Apparently what happened was that the person who was
originally supposed to write the chapter on RAID didn't turn in anything
usable. The editor called me in a panic because they were getting read to
go to press and he desperately needed a RAID chapter right away. I wrote
the chapter in three days. Even so, they were running so late that it
ended up as Appendix C rather than as a chapter in the body of the text.
There wasn't much time for editing, so what you see there is basically
what I wrote, unchanged. That Appendix is the only thing I had to do with
My reason for writing to you at this time is
to formally pay recognition to a fountain of knowledge, one that I may
in the future drink from. At this time I would like to seek your advice
on a personal matter. I am 34 years old and have been in the field of
Electronics for over fifteen years. I am an accomplished Electronics
Technician. I have been teaching Electronics for over ten years but only
started teaching computer repairs two years ago.
I am A+ Certified and is presently in the
process of persuing my MCSE. At the school that I presently teach we
provide training in installing and maintaining both Win NT and Netware
4.0. It is my intent to one day be a consultant , one such as yourself (
may be one day work with you). My questions to you are these :
1. Which certification (NT or Netware) do
you think wold be more rewarding to pursue?
Well, conventional wisdom is that the MCSE is hot right
now, and I suppose that's true. But there are a lot of NetWare sites out
there. Also, certification isn't quite the guarantee it used to be. Back
when I first started with NetWare, having a CNE was almost a guarantee
that you'd earn 25% to 50% more than someone who didn't. Nowadays, there
are probably more than 100,000 CNEs out there, so it's less a guarantee
than just a ticket that you need to get punched. Same thing, to a lesser
but growing extent, with the MCSE. A few years ago, there were only a few
thousand MCSEs, but now I believe there are something like 70,000. So,
yes, either one is a useful credential to have, but neither is much of a
guarantee of anything. If I were you, I'd get whichever certification
matches the NOS you prefer working with. You'll find a lot of work for
either. But the MCSE is definitely what people want to see right now.
2. How can I develop my self to my fullest
potential, by remaining in teaching or going back in industry?
I'd say that's too personal a choice to listen to anyone
else's advice about. That said, if I were you, I think I'd stick with
teaching for now and gradually develop a consulting practice on the side.
Much network consulting work is done evenings and weekends (when people
aren't using the network) anyway, so you may be able to fit in quite a bit
of work around your day job. You may well be able to use your teaching
contacts to help you develop your consulting practice.
3. What are some of the real benefits of
being a network consultant?
Again, that's very personal. For me, the primary benefit is
being my own boss, setting my own hours, working only with people I choose
to work with, and other issues related to personal freedom. It's also nice
to build something yourself and then stand back and watch it work.
4. From a financial stand point, as a
consultant is it "today we eat chicken tommorow we eat
Well, it's certainly likely to be that way when you're
getting started. Before I more or less gave up doing consulting work in
favor of writing books, I had weeks when I made $10,000 and months when I
made $500. Once you've established a practice, things tend to even out a
bit more, but you'll always want to have a decent buffer in the bank to
cover slow periods. Also, a lot depends on the market situation where you
live, how you price your services, and how much competition you have.
5 It is frigid here in CT, what is it like
At the moment, it's 54F and sunny.
* * * * *
And the following from Gary M. Berg:
So basically what you've suggested is to
install NT on the F: drive (ignoring NT's technical terminology) and
then install programs into C:\Program Files as needed. Hmm, I guess that
still preserves my D: and E: structure pretty well. I've heard comments
about an occasional problem installing an application on top of itself
if the app requires slightly different code for different operating
systems. Ultimately I might convert C: to NTFS too if I'm ready to give
Yes. Of course, when you eventually decide to blow away
Win95 on C:, you'll probably want to keep your Program Files folder
intact. I've never had any problems "re-installing" apps
pointing to the same installation folder, but I don't do it all that much.
And, yes, you could eventually convert C: to NTFS, which would also
reclaim a lot of FAT16 slack space.
I suppose another way to create F: is to add
a new drive up front. I assume you suggested adding the second drive on
the second EIDE channel because that should improve performance some? In
my previous system I had two drives both on the main EIDE channel and it
worked OK. It was a 486/33, so who knows how speed compared <g>?
Correct. As you probably know, but some may not, the two
devices attached to one ATA channel do not operate completely
independently. For example, if you have two hard drives attached to your
primary ATA interface, you can write to only one of those hard drives at a
time. A similar but subtly different issue is that of independent device
timing. Older IDE hard drives and ATAPI CD-ROM drives operating on older
ATA interfaces must operate at the same speed. That meant that installing
a CD-ROM on the same cable as an IDE hard drive killed the performance of
the hard drive, which had to operate at CD-ROM throughput speeds. Starting
with the Triton II chipset, all Intel chipsets and most third-party
chipsets have supported independent device time, which eliminates that
>> Win95 needs to reside on the
first physical drive on the system, i.e. the one jumpered as master on
the primary ATA interface. <<
So even though I had thought about
installing NT on the primary drive, the Win95 requirement will prevent
me from moving my current drive to slave, even if I use a boot manager
to control it? I recognize that whatever partition is first booted would
have to be on the master drive.
I suspect that that's true, although I've never tried using
Windows 95 on anything other than the first hard disk in the system.
I'm not sure I totally trust my current
drive (6.4Gb WD), as about 2 times in the 15 months I've had it it has
failed to spin up properly. So an alternative process would be to use
Drive Image to duplicate my old drive onto the new HD and then start
this whole process.
Hmm. Well, if that's the case, you definitely should be
thinking about installing a new hard disk. But surely a 6.4 GB drive must
be new enough that it's still under warranty, right? If so, I think I'd
buy a new drive, move my stuff to it, use the WDDIAG utility to zero out
the old drive and then return it for a replacement.
>> As far as interrupts, NT does
unfortunately require that each LPT port be assigned its own IRQ.
I thought that requirement was dropped; I
know it was required originally, but I thought that later releases
didn't require it. That's going to cause me trouble, given my current
0-2 - System
3 - COM2 (Modem)
4 - COM1 (PalmPilot Cradle)
5 - SoundBlaster AWE 64
6 - Floppy
7 - Parallel Port (s)
8 - RTC
9 - Adaptec 2940U
10 - 3COM NIC
11 - Matrox Millennium video card
12 - PS/2 mouse
13 - NDP
14 - EIDE (Hard drive)
15 - EIDE (2 CD-ROMs)
You may be right about the interrupt requirement, but I'd
be surprised if that was the case. DOS can print without interrupts
because it's a single-tasking OS. When the application wants to print, it
simply opens the port and starts shipping data to it. With Windows NT,
that port sits underneath the Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL), which
isolates the NT kernel from the hardware. But I'm speculating, because
again this is something I've never tried to do. If you try it, let me know
Given that I have an HP 4L on one parallel
port and a Umax 610P scanner with HP722C on the second parallel port,
port squeezing is going to be tough. The only thought I can come up with
is some sort of network printing box (like the Intel print boxes) which
could capture the HP 4L output. And that would be a $150-$200 added
expense, I'd guess.
I suppose I might be able to scrounge up an
old machine at work and install NT on it just to serve out the HP 4L -
I've had a Compaq 486 DX-2/50 sitting in the corner of my office at work
doing that sort of thing. An Ethernet port sharing box would probably be
a better choice.
Using another box would certainly be one solution, and I
don't know why it'd have to run NT. Why not just install Win95 on it and
set it up with a shared printer?
Sometimes it seems like it'd be easier to
just build a whole new machine <sigh>. But the IRQ jam would still
make for trouble.
Yes, it probably would be easier. And it's pretty cheap
nowadays, with good system boards under $100, memory and drives cheap, and
333 MHz Celeron-A's also south of the $100 line.
* * * * *
And more from Rick Boatright about consulting::
Perhaps I could send you a copy of my
"Incomplete Job completion contract" The first paragraph,
which the customer must sign _that paragraph_ as understood is:
Client understands that all effort expended
to date on this project must be view as "sunk costs" and as
lost. That TBC can make no guarantees to utilize hardware, software, or
procedures that have been put in place in the project to date. Client
further understands that they have requested that this project be
"bumped" to the top of TBC's priority queue, and that this
requires displacing existing customers, and that there will be a billing
surcharge for suchprioritization of 100%.
Signed _______________- Dated_________
and then it goes on with our usual terms of
Yep. That indeed might make it all worthwhile.
* * * * *
And now I really must get back to work on my book. I notice that the
FrontPage download time indicator for this page is now showing 65 seconds.
I try to limit myself to 60 second download times, which I've already
exceeded for this week. There may be a short update tomorrow, but probably
January 17, 1999
I am going to take today off, but a couple of interesting messages were
waiting in my inbox this morning, so here they are.
* * * * *
This from Michael Baker:
I've been enjoying your daily journal for
several months now. Great site! Keep it up!
I just setup NT Workstation on one of my
systems. This is my first experience with Windows NT. I have ordered a
couple of NT books (one of them being your Windows NT TCP/IP Network
Administration). They haven't arrived yet and I have a couple of
I have a small network consisting of 2 win98
machines, a NT box, and an ancient 486 that dual boots win95 and linux.
I have set up NETBIOS and TCP/IP, and can log into the NT machine over
the network. In messing around with NT's networking settings, I see
references to a domain. What is a NT domain, and can I set one up using
NT Workstation? Also, would you recommend installing service pack 4? I
have heard that there are problems with it. Thanks for your time.
Thanks for the kind words. An NT domain (which has no
relationship to an Internet domain) is one of two ways that a Windows NT
network can be organized, the other being a workgroup. The main difference
is how security operates. In a domain, which is defined by the presence of
a Primary Domain Controller (PDC) running on a Windows NT Server machine,
security is centralized. The PDC maintains the master directory database,
against which all logins to the domain are authenticated. Once a domain
user logs in to the domain and is authenticated, that user has access to
all shared resources on the domain for which his account is authorized. In
a workgroup, there is no central security database. Each NT machine
(Server or Workstation) maintains its own local directory database, and
each machine authenticates logins for users who want to access shared
resources on that local machine. So, in order to create a Windows NT
domain, you must have at least one machine running Windows NT Server.
As far as SP4, I've been running it on one of my Windows NT
Server boxes since it first shipped, and haven't had any problems. My
others are still running SP3, but I'll probably install SP4 on them the
next time I get a spare moment. There are some post-SP4 hotfixes available
on the Microsoft FTP server, which I'll probably check as well before I do
that. Good luck.
* * * * *
And more on consulting rates from Tom Syroid:
excellent, well-crafted rant on the benefits and costs of the consulting
When I was
consulting full-time a few years back, my advertised rate was $65/hr.
The rate I worked at for individuals varied from $10 -$25/hr. I often
did work free for organizations I thought needed it, but couldn't
honestly afford it. Also, your insights into hidden costs for
self-training etc. was bang on the money, or lack thereof so to speak
Keep up the
quality penmanship -- it's what keeps me coming back every day.
adventures of computing..
Thanks. Your $65/hr rate sounds a bit low, even for a few
years ago. Of course, supply and demand has a lot to do with what hourly
rate is sustainable in a given market. But I think one of the biggest
mistakes that new consultants make is underpricing their services. Many of
them fall prey to the old illusion of charging a lower rate and making it
up on volume. But it just doesn't work that way. So long as you're on your
own, you have to figure in the time and costs required to sustain the
business. No matter how low your rates are, you're unlikely to be able to
bill more than 1,000 hours per year, 1,200 tops. On that basis, my rule of
thumb has always been that you can figure out roughly what your gross
paycheck equivalent earnings will be by dividing your hourly billing rate
by two and then multiplying by 1,000.
The situation changes if you have staff because you can
distribute the overhead of maintaining the business, getting new business,
etc. over several people. If you have two or three consultants and several
PC technicians, for example, you might reasonably charge $65/hr for a PC
technicians time, because you can keep that technician busy for 2,000
billable hours a year, or close to it. But if you're all by yourself,
billing less than $100/hr or so is just a slow route to financial suicide.
* * * * *
And Tom Syroid responds:
You're right, of course. But I was working
in an economically depressed small town and I did fall prey to the
mentality that if I charged what would be considered a
"realistic" price, I would grow my business in leaps and
bounds and then be able to charge higher rates when I had a respecting
client base. Wrong, of course, but easy an easy thinking-trap to fall
into when you're starting out.
BTW: You're one of the few "busy"
authors I know who takes the time to answer each and every mail you get.
I don't think most readers have a clue what kind of energy and
commitment this takes, so on behalf of the unheard-of-ones, I recognize
Yep. As I said, the market has a lot to do with what kind
of hourly rates are sustainable, and there's no doubt that it's tougher to
charge reasonable rates in a depressed area than in one that's booming.
But if you do what you do well and if there's a demand for it, you can
develop a client base if you work at it.
And a lot depends on the types of businesses in your area.
Generally speaking, very small businesses aren't good candidates for
consulting services. They simply can't or won't pay the market rate. But
businesses a bit larger than small are a good market. They need the help
and can't afford to employ the kind of people that they need to get the
things done that they need to do. A lot of consultants make a good living
by being the "part-time MIS department" for such businesses. But
that's a tough row to hoe, because you have to be a generalist, able to
give good advice on everything from choosing PCs to setting up networks to
bringing up a web site to linking branch offices. It also helps if you're
multi-lingual in NT, NetWare, and UNIX. But it's a good niche if you can
do all that.
As far as answering mail, I do try to reply to everything I
receive, although that's getting harder. At this point, everyone gets a
reply, although it may be one sentence or even one word. But this site is
starting to get increased traffic, and I have no doubt that the day will
come when I can't reply individually to each message. I don't look forward
to that day.