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Daynotes Journal

Week of 1/18/99

Friday, July 05, 2002 08:19

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, January 18, 1999

No book of the week this week. I read a bunch of paperback mysteries and some non-fiction last week, but nothing extraordinary. Actually, I'm beginning to think that no one cares what I read. My weekly report from Amazon.com shows few clickthroughs and fewer sales. Am I wasting my time posting short book reviews? Perhaps I should be using that time to do something else.

* * * * *

This from Shawn Wallbridge:

Here's what happened. I bought a new video card today an Asus V3400TNT/TV 16MB AGP. Before I installed it I removed the drivers for my Matrox Millenium II 8MB PCI. Then I restarted and was running 640x480. I shutdown and swapped cards. When I rebooted it "found new hardware" and started installing drivers. It found something to do with the PCI bridge and then found an unknown video card, I told it to use the Standard PCI Drivers. And it booted fine. I opened my computer and double clicked on the CD to run it. The installation program ran and I installed the drivers. It said I needed to install the Intel GARTD AGP drivers, so I did. When everything finished it rebooted and everything seemed fine. I reset my screen resolution and opened a few applications. Then I noticed that the icon for my shortcut to Quake II was wrong. I double clicked and it said that the drive was gone. I opened My Computer and my E drive icon was still there but it does not work. But now I have an H drive. The H drive works and points to my E drive. Under System Properties it says "Drive E is using MS-DOS compatibility mode file system". When I boot from a floppy everything is OK.

Here is what I have done,

In System Properties

I removed all IDE Drives, no luck

I removed the Hard Disk controller (Intel 82371AB/EB PCI Bus Master IDE Controller), again no luck

I have a Intel Pentium II 450, 128MB Questec PC100 DIMM, Abit BH6 Motherboard, etc. I am using Win98 with the latest updates from Microsoft's site.

I was wondering if you have any suggestions. I have a fresh backup so I am not too worried if I have to reinstall.

I'm no Win9x expert. I have one Win95 and one Win98 box, but they're both dual-boot and I seldom run Win9x. And, as you may know, Windows NT doesn't support AGP. But what you describe sounds to me like it may be a BIOS problem. If I understand your problem, your drive runs in compatibility mode only when the AGP drivers are loaded, and otherwise works properly. That's a pretty strong indication that there's a problem either with the AGP drivers themselves or with the BIOS.

I did a quick check of the Abit site, and noticed that they have several recent BIOS updates showing. None of them specifically mention AGP, but it wouldn't surprise me if updating your BIOS fixed the problem. I'll post this in case one of my other readers knows more.

* * * * *

Late Afternoon: I've been cranking away on the book all day. Not much mail. I think my service provider may be having problems again. One message I did get was from Gary M. Berg:

On your web site this morning you mentioned:

>> as you may know, Windows NT doesn't support AGP

Does this mean an AGP video card won't work at all under NT, or just doesn't gain any speed advantages? I'm looking at building an NT box sometime soon, and was expecting to buy it with an AGP Matrox Millennium G200 board.

Oops. Sorry to be unclear. Windows NT works fine with AGP video cards. It's just that it treats them as ordinary PCI video cards, and doesn't support the added AGP functionality. In fact, I'm running an Intel AGP video card in the NT box I'm writing this on.

* * * * *

Evening: We had an early dinner. I cleaned up the kitchen while Barbara walked the dogs. I was just getting ready to read for a while, but I decided to see if my mail was working again yet. It's coming in in dribs and drabs, but my service provider still seems to be having problems getting the mail delivered to me. This is happening much too often lately. I'll give it another month or so and then think about changing my web hosting company. I think I'm paid through the end of March. We'll see what happens.

I did get the following message from Tim Werth:

I read your discussion on the pricing of consulting services last week and I'm curious. In general which pays better for you, writing technical books or consulting? I don't want to get personal about how much you make, just curious in general. Talk to you later.

Good question. Probably consulting would pay better if I cared to pursue it full time. Writing in general is a poorly paid profession, but computer book writing pays reasonably well. You'll never get rich doing it, but you won't starve either, at least if you work at it. If I pushed it to the extent that some authors do, writing six or more books a year, I could probably make more money at it than I do. But I prefer to take my time and do better books than I could write working that fast. I typically do two books or the equivalent per year. They're usually longer and have more work in them than the quick knock-offs that some people do.

But there's a lot more to it than money. When I started my consulting practice, I was doing reasonably well both in developing a client base and in generating revenue. But I wanted to get away from doing client work for several reasons, not least of which was that I didn't want to spend a lot of time and effort developing a practice here in Winston-Salem. The trouble with an established practice is that it isn't portable. I wanted to do something that didn't lock me in geographically. 

The Winston-Salem area is heavily dependent on tobacco and textiles, both of which are threatened industries. Tobacco for obvious reasons. The Clintons are doing their best to abolish tobacco. Textiles are actually probably in worse shape. Much of the finish work that used to be done in plants around here has moved to Mexico and other places where the textile companies can hire labor for a dollar a day or whatever.

I don't really have any problem with that. There's no reason why a U.S. worker should be making even $8 or $10 an hour to do work that a Mexican worker is willing to do for a tenth that much or less. Barring protectionist measures like those we've had in the past, people without skills are likely to have trouble earning a living, and that's as it should be. But I do have a problem with the effect that this migration of jobs will have on this area.

So I wanted to be flexible, able to drop what I was doing, move somewhere else, and start back up with little interruption. Writing addresses that requirement nicely. I could, if necessary, relocate to Vermont or wherever and continue doing what I'm doing with essentially no down time. The readers of this site probably wouldn't even realize that anything had changed.

Until the first of the year, Barbara was working for the Forsyth County Public Library. Now she's self-employed and working at home. For now, she's helping me on my books, but she's also developing a business as an independent researcher and information broker. That, too, is portable. As a matter of fact, if her parents and sister didn't live here in Winston-Salem, we'd probably have relocated already.

Well, as usual, I've digressed, but I hope I answered your question.

* * * * *

And now I think I'll go read for a while. There's a re-run Buffy the Vampire Slayer on at 9:00, so I guess we'll watch that. We've seen only two episodes so far, so they're all new to us.


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Tuesday, January 19, 1999

And another enjoyable episode of Buffy, watching her beat the crap out of assorted demons and vampires while engaging in snappy reparte. I think Barbara likes the show because the librarian is one of the good guys. He doesn't wear tennis shoes or shush people. He beats the crap out of bad guys too. The only downside to Buffy is that I'm afraid a lot of girls and women are going to get the idea that women are capable of defending themselves in a fight with a man, and that just isn't so.

Years ago, I taught self defense to college girls. I made the point then, and it's just as valid now, that if it comes down to a fight, a woman has exactly one chance. She has to disable or kill the male attacker before he realizes that she's going to fight. A fight between a man and a woman must end in literally the first second or the woman is going to lose, period. If she fights back and leaves the man standing, he's going to hurt her badly or kill her, and all the martial arts ability in the world isn't going to change that. She doesn't have the mass or the muscle bulk to slug it out with him. All he has to do is close with her and land one punch and the fight is over, probably permanently.

But the woman does have one huge advantage. Men instinctively regard each other as equals, and respect the damage that another man can do to them. So when two men prepare to fight, they both assume a defensive posture. But when a man assaults a woman, he starts without that defensive attitude because he doesn't expect a woman to fight back. He leaves himself open to attack, and that momentary opening is the one advantage that a woman has. If she's going to win, she has to take maximum advantage of that initial opening, because that's the only chance she's going to get.

And all the non-lethal stuff--pepper spray, Tasers, etc.--is worthless. All that hitting an attacker with tear gas or a stun gun accomplishes is to make him very angry. I know. I've been hit with both in demonstrations. Those things are fine for a police officer, who has more potent defenses available as a recourse, and probably has a partner standing by as well. But they're worse than useless for a woman who's attacked in a parking deck. The only thing that puts a woman on equal terms in a fight with a man is a heavy caliber handgun that she has ready to hand and is trained and prepared to use. That's not policitically correct, but it's true nonetheless. To paraphrase the old quote, "God made woman, but Colonel Colt made them equal."

* * * * *

This from Scott Kitterman regarding my statement that I might stop doing Book of the Week reviews:

No, don't stop. Our tastes don't overlap much, but I enjoy reading the reviews and so far there has been one absolute gem that I doubt I would have ever heard about if you hadn't reviewed it. Gates of Fire was unbelievable. It's worth it to me to go on reading your reviews for a long time if I hit on one of that caliber again.

I'm glad you enjoyed that book. So I guess what I'll continue embedding book reviews, although I may get away from the formal BOTW structure.

* * * * *

And this from my friend John Mikol:

I thought you didn't watch TV... Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and a rerun yet)?

I don't watch much. Barbara watches The Practice, NYPD Blue, and ER, and I kind of watch those while I'm reading. I also watch Masterpiece Theatre, Mystery, a movie once in a while on AMC or one of the commercial-free stations, and an occasional show on A&E or the History Channel. There are times, alas, when my unread stack has dwindled to nothing. I then have the choice between re-reading something (my usual choice) or watching TV.

Pournelle mentioned a couple of times that he wouldn't miss Buffy. At first I thought he was kidding. Then I decided he was serious, but that it was just an aberration. Then TV Guide listed the 10 best shows on TV, and Buffy came in at #4. So I watched an episode 2 weeks ago and another last week. It's actually pretty funny.

* * * * *

And Bo Leuf about consulting:

Thanks for posting the rule of thumb about consultancy rates. Sometimes that sort of thing says more than reams of detailed figures, or at least puts those into perspective. Interestingly, it sort of tallies with my own experience here, especially the part about the maximum number of billable hours in a year.

On and off, I've over a couple of years been looking at some US salary statistics, so when I was in Atlanta 97 and discussed possible jobs I wasn't totally ignorant where to put myself in terms of asking salary for full-time jobs given my age and experience. In consultancy, on the other hand, and contract jobs posted here and there, I had noticed a really wide spread of offered rates, even for what on the surface looks like similar job descriptions. Much more difficult to judge what is "reasonable" (we'd all like to bill unreasonable rates <g>).

Been busy enough with various things, including family demands that I not constantly sit behind the keyboard, that our conversations lapsed somewhat. Also, exchanges with Tom Syroid sort of peaked there for a while between tabla and column :)

Well, apparently what I've said holds true not only in the US, but in Canada and Sweden as well. I can't say I'm surprised. Our economic and tax structures may differ greatly, but time still runs at its usual one second per second rate regardless of where we live. And that's what consulting is really about. All we have to sell is our time, and the realities of non-billable time don't change when you cross a border.

I'm also not surprised by the widely varying rates for consulting and contract jobs. In theory, at least, the cost of a given job should be relatively constant no matter how many hours it takes a particular consultant to do it. If you're particularly good at something, you might bill $250/hr and get the job done in four hours. If I'm less experienced, I might take ten hours to do the same job, but bill only $100/hr. In either case, the same job gets done, which presumably has the same value to the client, and the end cost to the client is the same $1,000. In practice, of course, things don't always work out that way, but there is a general tendency for skill level and billing rate to correlate at least to some extent.

Glad to hear you're busy. It's better than the alternative. Now that I've gotten you and Tom Syroid doing daily updates to your web sites, I guess I can confess that it's more work than I admitted. But then you know that now.

* * * * *

And this from Tom Syroid:

I don't think you're the only one having EMail trouble. I usually get 15 to 25 emails a day and so far today, I've got 4 or 5. Nothing from the auto-mail newsletters. Perhaps this is a bigger thing than just our individual ISPs...

Probably a coincidence. My problems lately are originating at my web service provider, Bigbiz.com, who seems to be having a lot of mail server and connectivity problems. I have a pretty convoluted mail setup. We actually dial in to Bellsouth.net, where I have a POP mailbox. Barbara and I both use Bellsouth.net for SMTP services (outbound mail), but things get much more complicated after that.

I also have several POP mailboxes set up at mail.ttgnet.com, which is hosted on the Bigbiz.com mail server. Mail sent to barbara@ttgnet.com is set to autoforward to the POP account at Bellsouth.net. Barbara's copy of Outlook is set to POP directly from that Bellsouth.net account. I have my main account, thompson@ttgnet.com hosted on the Bigbiz.com mail server, as well as several supplementary accounts (webmaster@ttgnet.com, info@ttgnet.com, etc.) that autoforward to my main thompson@ttgnet.com account. I also have several "guest" accounts set up (e.g. steve@ttgnet.com for my friend Steve Tucker, craig@ttgnet.com for my co-author Craig Hunt, etc.) which are set to autoforward to their actual dial in accounts. Anything sent to a non-existent *.ttgnet.com account is set to autoforward to thompson@ttgnet.com. So, for example, when one of Barbara's friends sent mail the other day to barabara@ttgnet.com, that ended up in my inbox. Then there are the foreign autoforwards. For example, I have an account thompson@oreilly.com that's set to autoforward to thompson@ttgnet.com.

So when I start having mail problems, it's not always immediately clear where the problem originates.

* * * * *

Early Evening: Another early dinner. Back when Barbara still worked at the library, we usually ate dinner at 6:30 or 7:00 p.m. Now with her working at home, we sometimes eat as early as 5:30, which extends the evenings a bit. The dogs get their first after-dinner walk earlier (they're now angling for three evening walks instead of two), and I have more time to read. In one sense, that appears to come out of what used to be work time, but the truth is that I'm usually too whacked to accomplish much useful writing by 5:30 anyway. I normally sit down at the computer around 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning and work pretty much straight through.

Barbara took my mother to the dentist this afternoon for a followup visit, and then took her to the mall. It's probably been at least a couple of years since my mom has visited the mall, and she enjoyed her trip out. Especially now that she has her snazzy new wheelchair to roll around in. When Barbara got home and took the dogs out the front door, she found a box from Intel sitting there. I didn't even hear the doorbell ring.

When I opened the box, I found a Seattle SE440BX system board, a 450 MHz Pentium II, and a 333 MHz Celeron. The RC440BX integrated system board I requested is apparently in short supply, but my contact at Intel is working on getting me one. In the mean time, I'm going to build a reference test-bench system around that Seattle. That'll give me a standard reference platform to swap peripherals like video cards and hard drives into and out of.

And now I think I'll go read for a while. There's a new episode of Buffy on at 8:00. I'm still trying to figure out if it's worth an hour of my time per episode. I'll probably decide it's not, but I do like Sarah Michelle Geller. Actually, I like Willow, too. You have to like a novice witch the extent of whose powers is levitating pencils. That'll be it for TV for the night, because we're sure not going to watch Mr. Clinton.

And speaking of Mr. Clinton's State of the Union Address, I told Barbara that in honor of that I was considering posting that excellent little musical satire about Clinton and Lewinsky, which was professionally produced and sung to the tune of Elton John's Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me. She talked me out of it, more's the pity. If anyone wants it, it's available all over the Internet by now. Just search for godown.wav.

 


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Wednesday, January 20, 1999

The business section of the paper this morning had a big article about OnSale. Apparently, they're going to sell computer equipment on their web site at their wholesale cost. According to the newspaper article, OnSale will charge a 2.6% credit card fee, a fixed $5 or $10 per order processing fee, and "normal shipping charges", whatever those may be. My first thought was that this was no big deal. The computer hardware and software market is so competitive now that margins are pretty low to start with. But, it's worth checking out.

So I hit the OnSale web site. When I arrived at the web site, I first checked out their Policies link, and found that "Onsale passes through a 2.4% Payment Processing Fee on all transactions. Each order is subject to a transaction fee of a minimum of $5.00 per order up to a maximum of $10.00 per unit." I'm not sure what that last sentence means. If I read it correctly, anything order you make has at least a $5 transaction fee, and they could charge you multiple $10 fees in a single order if you order more than one "unit." Who knows?

When I started checking prices, the first thing I noticed was that they were featuring Windows NT Server 5.0 with 5 client access licenses for $262.05. That seemed too good to be true. I didn't notice the "v/u" in the string of other descriptive material. Version upgrade, obviously. So then I went looking for some other things to compare. I first checked the price of Maxtor DiamondMax 2500 10 GB drives. OnSale sells them for $257.28, presumably not including the 2.4% and flat $5 or $10. Adding those in takes their price to $268.45 or $273.45, not including shipping. So I went over to CNET's www.shopper.com to check out other people's prices for the same drive. BuyComp, Comtrade, and CMPExpress all sell that drive for less than OnSale's nominal price, the lowest price listed being $238.95. Quite a few vendors sell it for less than OnSale's price after adding in the credit card percentage and flat processing fee. NECx, a company I've bought from and trust, sells it for about $278. Insight, another company I buy from frequently, is a bit higher at $303.99.

On that basis of that one random comparision, it appears that OnSale isn't anything special. To be fair, I decided to pick another random comparision, so I searched the OnSale site for "Celeron". I found that they sell two boxed Celeron processors, the 366 MHz PPGA version for $126.77, and the 400 MHz Slot 1 version for $174.25. Adding in the credit card fee and assuming the $5 or $10 transaction fee, that takes their prices to $134.81/$139.81 and $183.43/$188.43. The shopper.com web site doesn't list either of these processors, so I went over to NECx. They show the 366 MHz PPGA Celeron at $138.95 and the 400 MHz Slot 1 Celeron at $188.95. Insight shows the 366 MHz PPGA version for $150.99 and the 400 MHz Slot 1 version for $205.99.

So, I learned a few things here. First, OnSale doesn't appear to be significantly less expensive, if at all, than other, better-established sources like NECx. And second, NECx appears to beat Insight's prices. Third, OnSale has a very limited selection. They listed only those two Celeron CPUs, while both NECx and Insight had numerous other Celerons to choose from. I don't think I'll be buying anything from OnSale.

* * * * *

And Tom Syroid has this to say about my email setup:

Yee Gods! Your Email explanation... I take it you're not familiar with the KISS concept? <SEG> Is the complexity worth the struggle when you have to troubleshoot mail delivery problems?

Regarding your book reviews: I enjoy them, but if you have questions about your time commitment and the net-sum-gain, why don't you do as I do? If you read a good book, note it on your pages, what you liked about it, and give it an "OK, Recommended, Highly Recommended" or a scale of your own choosing (PS, don't forget to give us the translation if it isn't obvious <g>). Don't go chasing links to Amazon. Mention the author's home page if you can open a hyperlink and simply type it from memory. Have fun reading, and share your fun. But do it so in a way that doesn't detract from the process or make you feel you're wasting your time.

Don't forget that we read your pages because they're fun, entertaining, and insightful. If you catch something detracting from this process -- modify it immediately. But you know what they said about the baby and the bath water...

It's not really all that bad. Basically, Barbara POPs from mail.lig.bellsouth.net, I POP from mail.ttgnet.com, and we both use the mail.lig.bellsouth.net SMTP server for outbound mail. As far as the book reviews, I'll probably do as you suggest.

* * * * *

And this from Bo Leuf, about whether I'm cheating by using so much reader mail:

For the most part, inclusion of (snippets of) other conversations does provide variety and liven up what otherwise would be a long monologue. Pros and cons, and of course requiring a decision whether to mix it all in the same page, or separate "journal" from "mail", or just let context decide. For my part, it seems better with the two separated, or risk getting the week page much too large and disorganized. But that may depend on how "off-topic" mail is.

I agree that incorporating reader mail enlivens the discussion. I normally print the entire message unless there's private material included. I made a conscious decision to keep everything in one page, and to keep it purely sequential. One of the things that drives me nuts about Pournelle's site is that there's stuff scattered all over the place, and he often doesn't mention in his main View and Mail pages that new material has been added elsewhere.

Another thing that makes me crazy is that he tends to try to organize things by embedding later material in the midst of older material. That means that I either miss new stuff because I didn't realize it was there, or I end up going back to re-read (and re-re-read) older material to make sure there isn't any new stuff in the middle of it.

Keeping everything on one page and in purely sequential order avoids both of those problems. Obviously, I'm not rigid about it. For large amounts of self-contained material I sometimes make a separate page and put a link to it in the main page. Also, I could certainly create a weekly mail page and keep it sequential as well. I haven't done that for several reasons: first, when I got started, I wasn't getting enough mail to make a separate mail page worthwhile, a problem that obviously no longer exists; second, reader messages serve as a kind of catalyst to get me writing about a topic, and that often comprises the majority of what I write in any given day's page. Third, I don't need yet another daily page to maintain.

So, I guess I'll stick with what I'm doing now, at least for the time being.

* * * * *

And now it's back to work on the book...

* * * * *

And this from Allan Smith:

I find your knee-jerk conservative rantings tiresome. Why can't you just stick to computer stuff?

Because it's my page and I write about whatever I feel like writing about. If you don't like it, don't read it. And please get your political philosophies straight before you criticize. What I publish are knee-jerk libertarian rants. Big difference. It's interesting that liberals usually mistake libertarians for conservatives, and conservatives usually mistake libertarians for liberals. Populists usually don't mistake us for either. They just think we're the anti-christ or something. And, incidentally, haven't you confused your adjectives? It's liberals who are usually described as "knee-jerk." The normal pejorative for Conservatives is "hide-bound".

 


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Thursday, January 21, 1999

If I ever had any doubt that the Linux phenomenon is for real, that doubt was erased when I opened the newspaper this morning. They ran a nearly full-page article on Linux, including photographs and interviews with several local Linux users. What's really remarkable is that they got the story mostly right. Winston-Salem is not a particularly high-tech area, although Research Triangle Park (about 1.5 hours east of us) is. So the fact that our local newspaper has started featuring material about Linux tells me that Linux is rapidly becoming mainstream. That they considered Linux to be worth that much space tells me that they consider it to be a pretty important issue. This can't be good news for Microsoft.

* * * * *

And speaking of Microsoft and NT, I noticed in Infoworld yesterday that Microsoft is now officially saying that Windows 2000 will ship in late February of 2000. That pretty much confirms what I've been telling my editors for the last six months or so, that I expected the earliest possible ship date of W2K to be Q1/2000. In fact, at this point, I doubt they'll make that date. They were discussing the possibility of a Windows NT 4.5 interim release this fall, which would slip the W2K ship date even further out. Things must be frantic at Microsoft by now. They have NetWare 5 to contend with, a shipping product that is a formidable competitor to the still unborn W2K. Then there's Linux. Microsoft must know that you can only fool people with smoke and mirrors for so long, and they have to get a real product out the door soon or no one is going to care when it finally does arrive. And it had better be damned near perfect when it does ship. There's a lot to like about W2K, but if the release date slides much further out Microsoft may give a party and have no one show up.

* * * * *

And regarding disk defraggers: I was reading Bo Leuf's web site last night, and he mentioned that he needed an NT defragger. He said he was trying an eval version of VoptNT because he wasn't thrilled with Diskeeper Lite. I'm not sure why that is, because Diskeeper Lite is a competent (and free) NT defragger. But, at any rate, that got me to thinking about defragging my own systems.

I started with kerby, my main workstation. I fired up Diskeeper 4.0 and defragged my C: volume. It took very little time to run, and showed almost no fragmentation when I started it. I thought something was wrong, because it'd been quite a while since I defragged this system. Then I realized that I'd probably set Diskeeper to do scheduled defrags. Sure enough, when I checked, I found that I'd set it up to do scheduled defrags in the middle of the night. So, that obviously works, and is unintrusive to say the least. I didn't even know it was happening.

So then I figured I'd better do sherlock too. Sherlock is a great candidate for disk fragmentation. First, it runs WinGate (the proxy server I use, which caches web pages). I checked the WinGate cache directory and found something like 8,000 files there. Sherlock's other problem is that I've been using it to play around with MP3. Part of the process of converting CD audio tracks to MP3 involves "ripping" them from the CD and storing them on the hard disk in .wav form. In .wav format, one track can occupy 50 MB or more. Even the compressed MP3 files aren't small. I compress them using the 256 K/sec rate, which means that I get overall compression of only about 5:1 or 6:1. So, 680 MB worth of audio CD converts to about 125 MB of MP3 files. The result is that sherlock has thousands upon thousands of files on its drive, ranging from very small to 50+ MB. All the churning makes sherlock a great candidate for disk fragmentation.

So I went to run Diskeeper on sherlock and found that I hadn't installed it there. Rather than installing it, I decided just to run Diskeeper Lite. While I was cruising around the Start menu looking for Diskeeeper Lite, I noticed VoptNT. GoldenBow Systems had sent me eval versions of their products without my even requesting them. I'd installed the VoptNT eval version when it arrived and used it to do a quick defrag, but I figured I owed them at least a real trial of their products. So, I fired up VoptNT.

Everyone who uses Vopt comments on its speed. It isn't as pretty as Diskeeper, and doesn't have nearly as many options, but it does feel a lot faster than any other defragger I've used. And I found out at least one of the reasons why. While VoptNT was running on sherlock, I continued to work on kerby, mostly using my web browser, but also Outlook 98. I noticed that the Internet was running very slowly. At first I passed that off to just the usual periodic slowness with the Internet in general. But that's usually an on again, off again situation, and it usually doesn't impact every site I'm trying to access. This time, it seemed that the slowness was global.

Looking over at sherlock, it struck me how "busy" VoptNT was. Because my Internet access all runs through the WinGate proxy server running on sherlock, I wondered if perhaps VoptNT could be sucking so many CPU ticks that it was slowing down WinGate. I fired up Task Manager and, sure enough, the VoptNT process was occupying anything from 60% to 99% of the processor. That didn't seem right, so I right-clicked on the VoptNT process and found that it was running at High priority. When I checked the WinGate engine, it was running at Normal priority.

Just to test things, I again hit a web site with VoptNT running. Sure enough, it took forever to load. Then I killed VoptNT and tried the same web site. It loaded normally. Then I restarted VoptNT and tried hitting the web site again. The web site again took forever to reload. So the moral of this story is that VoptNT is a very fast defragger, but be careful about running it on a system that's also running other important processes. I installed VoptNT normally, and didn't do anything special to increase its priority to High. I'm not sure why VoptNT installs that way by default, other than their obvious desire to run the defrag very quickly. But any normal application, including a disk defragger, should be set to run at Normal or lower priority. I haven't tried resetting the default priority for VoptNT, but I'm pretty sure that doing so would have two results. First, it'd run "nice" instead of sucking CPU ticks that other applications need. Second, it'd defrag the disk a lot slower than it does using its default High priority setting.

 


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Friday, January 22, 1999

I was looking at my web stats yesterday morning, and wondered what happened. This site has been showing steady growth into the 1,000+ hits per day range. On 1/18, for example, it got 1,320 hits. On 1/19, that dropped back to 761 hits, and on 1/20 to 209 hits. I was beginning to wonder if my readers had abandoned me. Then, when I looked at the stats this morning, which cover yesterday, I saw that I was back up to 935 hits. I'm beginning to wonder if my site was having problems on 1/19 and 1/20.

How soon we get spoiled. When I first started this site, I was happy the first time I passed a thousand hits for a week. Now I worry if it drops below a thousand a day. Please tell your friends about this site. I like lots of hits. Makes me feel that I'm not wasting my time.

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And this from Robert Morgan concerning my comments on Microsoft, NT, and Linux yesterday:

I Feel Microsoft's Pain... NOT

You painted a pretty pessimistic view of Microsoft on your site today. When you look at the slippage of NT/2000, that's the initial conclusion. But look first at the dollars...

Their second-quarter earnings were 75% higher than a year ago, with quarterly net income of $1.98 billion on revenues of $4.94 billion. That's incredible! Of every five dollars they sell a product for, two dollars is pure profit! Their share price is at an all time high ($162), with a capitalization of $404 Billion. For comparison, GM's capitalization is $58 Billion. BillG is worth more than GM, at a stunning $83 Billion.

Do they care about the delays in releasing their software? Perhaps they're managing future cash flows.

They're certainly not hurting.

You're certainly correct that Microsoft is not in any short-term trouble. But, although a lot of people ridicule it, Bill Gates runs scared. And rightly so. Unlike some, Gates remembers what happened to Intergalactic Digital Research, Ashton-Tate and other companies that once had overwhelmingly dominant market share and lost it by taking it for granted. Microsoft's revenues are largely based on three things: First, the bundling deals for two products, Windows 98 and Office 97. Second, upgrade revenue to those products and their follow-ons. And third, a product that they have to actually sell, Windows NT. And Microsoft have stated publicly more than once that they're "betting the farm" on NT.

Gates is probably most secure about the desktop. Linux isn't going to replace Windows 98 or Windows NT Workstation any time soon, or so the conventional wisdom has it. But that could change.Right now, Windows 98/NTWS has a few things protecting it as the desktop OS of choice. First, the bundling deals, but those can be voided by the PC vendors relatively quickly if there is reason to do so. Second, Linux is crude compared to Windows. Typical Windows users can accomplish everything they need to do without ever seeing a character-mode prompt. But that too could change relatively quickly. There are a lot of very smart people developing shells, installers, etc. for Linux. Third, software availability. Conventional wisdom has it that Linux can't succeed as a desktop OS unless and until Office is ported to it. I'm not sure how true that is. Assume that someone writes clones of Word and Excel. They don't have to implement all of the features in the Microsoft products. All they need to do is implement the 5% or 10% of the most commonly used features and make sure their clone will read and write in Microsoft format. Once again, a lot of very bright people are doing just that. Given a decent Microsoft-compatible word processor and spreadsheet, about the only other things that most people need are a web browser and a mail package, both of which are now available in name brands for Linux. So, I'd basically agree that the desktop is relatively secure, for now, but that threats exist on the near horizon.

Then there's upgrade revenue. It used to be that software companies could count on upgrade revenue as a predictable revenue stream. That's no longer the case. A huge number of companies still use Office 95, and the likelihood is that many (or most) Office 97 users will stick with it once Office 2000 ships. Microsoft does everything it can to encourage upgrades, including (cynics would say) making sure that the new version has file format incompatibilities with the older version. But that upgrade gravy train is coming to an end. How many more features do you need in your word processor? I suppose they could shift their focus to shipping increasingly stable versions without new features, but the industry perception is that people won't pay for bug-fix releases. And many would argue that they shouldn't have to. But the upshot is that Microsoft's upgrade revenue stream is slowing and will gradually become a relative trickle. Certainly nothing to base the kind of growth they've historically experienced on.

And finally, there's Windows NT. Although Windows NT probably doesn't generate nearly the revenues that Microsoft receives from their bundling deals, NT is the cornerstone around which they are building their entire strategy. If NT 5 fails, it sets Microsoft back to the beginning (or worse) in their attempt to be taken seriously as a software vendor for the enterprise. They'd once again find themselves in the position of hawking toy operating systems, bloated applications suites, and little else.

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Shocking though this may be to some of my readers, I don't have a CD-R or CD-R/W drive in the house. And I think I need to get one. This all started when I sent the following mail to Jerry Pournelle in response to a query he'd posted on his site:

As far as keeping portable systems updated--or desktop systems, for that matter--I'd recommend that you create a "distribution server". I have a volume that has a \install folder on it, with subfolders like \install\Microsoft\Outlook98 (where the main installation files reside) and \install\Microsoft\Outlook98\patches. When I get a distribution CD, e.g. Office97, I copy that CD to the appropriate subfolder of \install before I actually install the software. That way, when I need to update it, the registry entries point to the hard disk volume instead of the CD. When I suck down a patch, I store it in the appropriate folder, deleting older patch/update files as appropriate. Then when I need to install or update OL98 or whatever on a system, everything is in one place, and all the registry pointers are aimed at the hard disk rather than a CD that I can't find. Also, I usually do a quick check of the web site (you can put an Internet shortcut to the proper site in the same folder as the patch files) to make sure that there's not a later update.

The distribution server idea also works well for downloadable products like Navigator. Before I download 10 MB or so of a new version, I always check the appropriate folder to find out if I already have it. I often find that I already downloaded that version. I do a lot less duplicate downloading nowadays.

In case you don't know about it, here's a great non-Microsoft site devoted to Outlook:

http://www.slipstick.com/outlook98/

To which Jerry replied in part:

Do me a favor. Burn me a CD of your install stuff and send it along. I'll set my own up. I should have organized that way, but I didn't, I expect I'll survive this trip with the original install stuff. But it would be worth having things set up that way for the future. It not only makes sense I don't know why I haven't done it.

To which I was embarrassed to have to respond:

Um, I would except that (a) my \install folder is something like 6 GB and growing (I copy every distribution CD I get into it) and (b) I *still* haven't gotten around to buying a CD writer.

And, yes, you're right. I need to do that. Particularly now that Barbara is working at home. I do tape backups and put the newest one in her purse. That was reasonably effective off-site storage while she working outside the house. No more.

Implicit in that exchange, of course, although not quoted here was that Jerry wasn't asking me to send him illegal copies of stuff, which I wouldn't have done anyway. But then, we all knew that. At any rate, Jerry replied, in part:

No hurry, but get the CD burner. That's a standard part of anything we recommend now. And do think about making the update thing. It's still only 10 disks, or maybe 12 bucks.

And he's right. There's no excuse for me not have a CD burner. And the issue isn't the $250 to $400 that a CD burner costs, let alone the $12 for disks to copy my install folder. The real problem is that I don't know anything about recordable CD. My friend Steve Tucker has an HP recordable CD that I've played around with--I did burn one CD for him while he was out of town--but I don't feel comfortable deciding what to buy. If I could just request eval units from the manufacturers that'd be one thing, but I don't even know where to start. The two manufacturers I would ask, HP and Sony, are so big that it might take me days to track down the phone number of the proper person to talk to. So I need to buy one. The question is, which one?

I sicced Barbara on it, and she did some quick research, pulling up some articles from PC Magazine, etc. But I'm still not sure what to do. I think I know that I want a drive that can record either CD-R or CD-R/W disks. I also think I want to stick with the IDE interface. I don't have a SCSI card in the house, but I'd be willing to install SCSI if it's really that much better for CD-R drives. But somehow I doubt that that's the case. The two drives I'm looking at are the HP and Sony IDE 4X-write units. Pournelle said to make sure to get a unit that could write at 4X, although I'm not sure how much that really matters. Granted, it'd be nice to be able to burn a CD in 15 minutes rather than the 30 minutes that a 2X unit takes, but I've been told that the faster you attempt to record the more blanks you're going to turn into coasters. So I'd probably be happy to record at 2X, or even 1X if that's what it takes to record reliably. Or perhaps the recording speed is dependent on the interface. Maybe IDE is marginal at 4X and SCSI is reliable at that speed. I don't know.

So if any of you have advice to offer--whether it's the names of drives you like or hate, URLs for particularly useful web sites on the subject, or whatever--please mail me and let me know. Unless you tell me otherwise, I'll post any particularly interesting messages here.

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And more from Robert Morgan concerning Microsoft:

Here's my thought process:

A significant amount of 1998's revenues are for Win98 and Office upgrades.

People are upgrading Win98 and Office in significant numbers as part of the Y2K effort: many businesses are using Y2K as an easy way to get rid of all their old 486 Win3.11 machines that haven't depreciated in their books yet.

People are buying Win98 with their first sub $1000 pc.

In 1999, businesses will continue to focus on Y2K and the continuing replacement of old pc's and Win3.11, thereby guaranteeing Win98 and Office upgrade revenue.

In 1999, there will be many more first time buyers of sub $1000 pc's, all of whom will buy Win98.

Businesses in any event will not consider a major version number upgrade (ie. to Windows 2000) until Y2K is resolved, so there is no point in even releasing it to the market to be panned in 1999.

In 2000, they will have likely fixed more bugs in Win2000 and businesses will start looking at it as the next upgrade.

I think it is unlikely that the installed NT user base would move to Novell or Linux if Win2000 delivers on its promises. Current Novell shops are likely to continue buying Novell, and there is certainly growing support for Linux, but will it kill NT/Win2000?

In any event, I think it's cash flow that's driving the current release date for Win2000.

But you're right, in 2000-2001 they're going to need new cash cows. Mind you, they'll have half a trillion in cash in the bank by then, so I wouldn't worry too much. Like I said, they could buy GM. And Ford. Mercedes-Chrysler. Honda. Europe.

Good points, but I do take issue with a couple of them. First, cheap PCs. Right now, sub-$1K PCs are common, and an increasing part of overall PC sales. $500 PCs have arrived, and I see in the trades that $299 PCs are on the near horizon. For a decade or more, standard business PCs cost $2K to $3K. Historically, Microsoft got a pretty standard 10% or so cut of that for the bundled operating system and office suite, and Intel got a 20% to 33% cut for the CPU. But the commoditization and rapidly shrinking cost of PCs is rapidly making those percentages unsustainable. You see the shrinkage most in the office suite for now. A "standard" PC used to come with Office Pro, then Office SBE, now Works.

As PC prices plummet, there's no way that Microsoft can continue to demand and receive a fixed dollar portion of the selling price, and that has to be a matter of great concern for them. One place you see that concern is the shift in their licensing terms. It used to be that I could legally relocate a copy of Windows 95 and Office from an older PC to a new one that had been purchased without software. Microsoft quietly changed that, altering their license terms to "marry" the copy of the software provided with a PC to that particular PC. They've also quietly changed various other licensing provisions to ensure additional purchases, most notably by eliminating concurrent use licensing and eliminating the "use at home" license that used to be thrown in with each Office license. Ideally, Microsoft would like to "rent" you the right to use their software, which would guarantee that you'd be paying an ongoing charge each year for every copy of their software you had installed. I believe that the increase in anti-piracy measures--forced registrations and so on--are not so much anti-piracy measures as customer-control measures. They want to know who's using their products so that they can tap those users on an ongoing basis for a continuing revenue stream.

Then there's the Y2K timing issue. I think a lot of people just assume that once the clock turns 2000, businesses will be finished with fixing Y2K problems and free to pursue other things. I don't think that's the case. I think they'll be spending most of the year 2000 fixing stuff that broke. There will be a lot of software upgrading going on during 2000, certainly, but most of it will be Y2K-related rather than elective upgrades. Then there's the thing that no one talks about. The backlog. For at least a couple of years now, many businesses have been focusing their IS resources on the Y2K issue, ignoring or applying quick fixes to ongoing IS problems. Once Y2K problems have been fixed, people aren't by and large going to be swinging into a round of major elective upgrades to operating systems and applications. Instead, they're going to be focusing on the stuff they've been ignoring for a couple of years--things like infrastructure upgrades, network and Internet upgrades, etc. The upshot is, assuming a February 2000 release of W2K, I don't think we'll see widespread adoption of W2K until 2001 or later.

As far as NetWare, Linux, and NT, I don't think there are many NT-only shops, other than small businesses. Most medium and larger businesses still run file and print services on NetWare. Most shops are NT-and-something-else, and that "something else" is usually NetWare and/or UNIX. NT loses a lot of sales now to Linux. People who install a new box to provide Internet services are increasingly choosing Linux rather than NT. I'm afraid that NT is going to be caught in the middle--not as good a file/print platform as NetWare and not as good an Internet platform as Linux.

* * * * *

And now I'd better get back to work. I have a chapter to get finished, a backup to do, and a bunch of other stuff that's been sitting on my to-do list for too long. There may not be much here this weekend. Then again, I usually say that, and I usually end up posting stuff anyway.

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Afternoon: The chapter that wouldn't die is finally more or less finished. At 40+ pages, it's another whopper. Barbara is going to do a detailed read-through later this afternoon, fixing problems and inserting data that I'd left blank. And some more mail has come in. First, Robert Morgan says:

Interesting reading. Glad I prompted you to write!

I suspect that ultimately, the o/s, and probably many applications, will be free. I think there's a combination of factors: Linux, the maturity of existing software, and the desire to integrate with hardware.

I don't know what Microsoft does to counter that, but I know they'll be well positioned with money in the bank.

I suspect that you're right, and that's what scares Microsoft more than anything. Given the number of very bright people working on Linux, I think it's quite possible that in a year or so we'll have available a simple, user-friendly, GUI-based Linux version intended for the desktop, with a GUI-based setup, automatic hardware detection, PnP, and all that other stuff that makes Windows easier to install and use than Linux. It's not impossible, given the efforts being made with WINE, that this desktop will be able to run MS Office and other Win32 apps.

If that happens, Microsoft is in deep do-do. They could eventually find themselves back in the position they started, as a supplier of supplemental utilities and applications. I know that most people think that there's no possibility of that happening, but most people thought that CP/M ruled and that DRI could not be knocked off its throne. Same with Ashton-Tate, same with WordPerfect, same with any number of other software companies that rested on their laurels. OSS is the biggest threat that Microsoft has ever faced, and they know it. After all, how do you compete with someone who gives away his product?

I can see all those sub-$500 PCs coming with a free copy of Linux pre-installed and configured with a Windows-like interface. Also, free copies of word processing and spreadsheet applications like WordPerfect, StarOffice, or ApplixWare. And standard client software to access NetWare and Windows NT servers. Few users will understand what's going on under the hood, but, hey, most users don't know that now. All of that must give Gates nightmares.

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And still more from Robert Morgan, this time on CD-R:

I've been very happy with the HP7200. Just make sure it's on a different IDE channel to your existing IDE cdrom if you want to duplicate cd's. I've also used an inexpensive Panasonic SCSI internal 4x writer with absolutely no problems.

Make sure you use Adaptec's Easy CD Creator. Originally a Corel product when Corel dominated SCSI software, it's just great. You'll also get a Direct-CD driver, which lets you copy files as if the CD were a hard drive. It's slower and you lose space on the cd, and you have to write a directory to it if you want to read it in a machine without Direct-CD.

I don't know anyone who uses rewritable cd's. The media costs ten times more. I'd rather have ten archived copies than one rewritten cd.

Hope that helps.

Yes, it does. Thanks. I want to get a CD-R/W capable drive, because I suspect the price of CD-R/W media will drop from its current $10 or $15 per disk to the $2 or $3 range. At that point, it may be a viable backup medium. But I agree that for now what I'm really interested in using is CD-R. And thanks for mentioning the Adaptec software. You're the third person who's said basically the same thing.

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And then Gary M. Berg asks:

Have you had any experience with Diskeeper Lite with NT 4 with SP4 installed? I've heard there are some problems with Diskeeper 4.0 with SP4 installed - I think related to the boot-time defragmentation. I wondered if the Lite version suffers from the same problems, or if since it doesn't run at boot time if it has no such problems.

No, I hadn't tried running any defragmenter under SP4 until I got your message. I have only one NT box running SP4. That's bastet, my soon-to-be resource server. I copied Diskeeper Lite to bastet and fired it up. I got the main screen display, but no drives were visible. When I attempted to select a drive manually, the dialog came up, but listed no drives as avaiable for selection. I hit the Diskeeper web site, but was unable to find any reference to SP4 problems. Not that I did an exhaustive search. Their search engine isn't the best I've seen. Searching for SP4 returned nothing. Searching for Service Pack 4 returned about 90 hits, but those included every document that referred to any service pack. I couldn't force a search for SP4 only. I'm going to mail my contact at ExecSoft and ask him what's going on.

I started to wonder if maybe something in SP4 broke disk defraggers, so I fired up VoptNT on bastet. It ran fine.

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And this from Dave Farquhar concerning CD-R drives:

There are plenty of differing opinions out there on CD-R. I have some experience with a Sony Spressa 4X recorder (it's what I own). My biggest gripe with that drive is the software that came bundled with it -- Sony CD-Right! or something along those lines. It doesn't hold a candle to Adaptec's software as far as versatility or compatibility. It has an annoying habit of not closing discs sometimes.

If you can't find a bundle that looks good (a drive from a vendor you trust along with Adaptec software), you can always assemble your own bundle from a vendor such as Dirt Cheap Drives or Megahaus. They'll usually cut you a deal on a PCI SCSI card and CD-mastering software when you buy them with a drive.

A good friend bought an HP Surestore a couple of years ago, right after the drives hit the magical $499 mark, and he's been happy with it. I'd say to definitely get a SCSI drive of some sort, however. The IDE drives are less expensive, but frequently they'll sacrifice a seldom-used feature or two to cut costs. You may never need that obscure feature that an IDE drive leaves out, but if and when you do need it, you'll find yourself wondering if it was really worth the savings.

SCSI advocates claim SCSI drives don't underrun as much either. I don't know about that -- my Sony underruns about as much as a Philips IDE drive I had at my last job did -- but simply due to the target audience, I'm inclined to recommend SCSI.

Some general rules to live by:

Adaptec DirectCD is a very nice package for creating data CDs -- it creates a device you can just drag and drop files to like any other removable media drive. It's only useful for creating data CDs, but for quick-and-dirty one-offs, you can't beat it.

Adaptec EZ-CD Creator is a more versatile package for making exact duplicates of CDs, mastering data CDs (it has less overhead than DirectCD for this purpose, so it's a better choice for anything but a quickie CD), and messing around with CD audio (as long as you've got the capability, of course you'll want to play around with mixing your own CDs, right?). You'll probably want both products in your stable.

CD-RW is nice if you can get that capability inexpensively, but CD-RW discs are much more expensive, and older readers can't read them. Most readers purchased in the last year and a half or so will, but pre-1997 drives probably won't.

The best price I've ever seen on a CD-RW disc, incidentally, is $20. That price is fantastic compared to Zip or Jaz, but since a CD-R costs me $1.50, I'm inclined just to burn CD-Rs. I'd have to change the contents about 15 times before the CD-RW proved to be worth it. I do five things with CD-Rs: back up commercial software so I can store the originals someplace safe, back up rare audio CDs for the same purpose, store images of standard OS configurations for quick data recovery (I use Norton Ghost for this; PowerQuest Drive Image would also work), store images of floppy disks that I may need occasionally (but who wants to keep enough disk boxes to hold 700 floppies?), and archive other forms of data such as word processing files that I can't afford to lose. CD-RW isn't extremely useful for any of these tasks.

Buy your blank CD-Rs in bulk. The local CompUSA sells spindles of 50 CDs for $49 pretty frequently. Jewels are $5 for a pack of 10. A package of 50 CD-Rs with jewels is $99. I have no idea why it's cheaper this way, but it is. You rmileage may vary. I bought a spindle along with four 10 packs, acknowledging that I'm probably going to turn 10 of those CDs into coasters.

Although a CD-R or CD-RW can function as a reader, you don't want to do that very much. The MTBF for recordables is about 10% of the MTBF for readers. Since the drive is going to wear out much more quickly, you want to use it exclusively for writing if possible.

You don't want to multitask while writing -- that's just asking for buffer underruns. Linux users boast of writing CDs while playing Quake and other ridiculous things. I haven't tried that yet. I find CD-recording under Windows is most reliable when I'm not trying to do anything else with the PC, and my preferred way of setting it up is to just install plain-vanilla Win95a on a PC somewhere, install the minimal set of drivers necessary to make the machine function, then install the mastering software. If I need to use the PC for other things, then I'll install either WinNT or a second instance of Win95 (and switch between them by changing the Windows directory setting in MSDOS.SYS), and boot into this minimal Windows when I need to write a CD. I find this setup really reduces the number of underruns I get.

CD-to-CD copying works, but make sure your reader is at least twice as fast (and four times as fast is better) as your writer. And you *will* get more underruns mastering from CD than you would mastering from a hard drive. Don't worry too much about whether your hard drive is fast enough. Anything recent should be. My friend with the HP used to master from a 3600-rpm Quantum Bigfoot drive.

That's probably more than you ever wanted to know about CD mastering...

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.

No, that's exactly the kind of stuff I wanted to know. Reading it in a magazine review is one thing. Having people with real-world experience tell me about the issues is something else entirely. Thanks for taking the time to detail all this stuff.

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And this from Chuck Waggoner:

Don't forget that Monday was a holiday. With the 18th off (and more people with time on their hands to check your site), it's likely that most were catching up at work on the 19th and 20th.

In fact, I'm just now back to current but still wanted to get a comment in about the consulting discussion you had last week. Although my field is television production, I think this is relevant. A couple decades ago, a mentor encouraged me and some others under his wing, to charge as dear a price as we could get--definitely above average. "They will respect you as valuable and appreciate your work more when they are paying you well," was his philosophy.

Over the years, it has not always been possible to charge those prices, but I can attest that when it has been, the commitment, support, and after-the-fact appreciation for my contribution has been the best. Low, or slow paying work often ends up in dissatisfaction or tragedy; I believe it often signals a lack of funds and internal commitment to the project. There's no worse situation than to be working for someone who was told by the head honcho, "Okay, take a few grand and see what you can do."

Good points. I had forgotten that Monday was a holiday, so I guess the reduced traffic makes sense. As far as pricing consulting services, you're absolutely right. Most people instinctively assume that a $500/hr lawyer is "better" than a $100/hr lawyer, and there's often good reason to believe this. And I agree with everything you've said about the pitfalls of low-pay/slow-pay clients.

 


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Saturday, January 23, 1999

If you like variable weather, move to Winston-Salem. It hasn't been long ago that we were digging out from an ice storm. Today we're supposed to have a high temperature around 70F/21C and severe thunderstorms.

* * * * *

I have a problem with Internet Explorer 4 running on Windows NT and I'm hoping someone can tell me how to fix it. The specific version is Build 4.72.3110.8; 128-bit encryption; Update Versions: SP1; 2635. I haven't installed Office SP2 because it refuses to install. The problem occurs on numerous machines, with both clean and upgrade installs, so it appears to be a bug that is inherent to IE rather than caused by the specific machine or configuration. I can't believe that no one else has run into it, but I've never seen any mention of it anywhere, and I can't find anything about it on Microsoft TechNet or their web site.

Here it is: I use the Links toolbar to organize the web sites I visit frequently. Rather than putting individual web sites on the Links toolbar, I've created folders (some with subfolders) to hold those links. When I first start IE, I can click on any folder on the Links toolbar, and it correctly displays a drop-down menu of the contents of that folder using Text Labels. If I then click on any other folder on the Links toolbar, it displays the drop-down menu, but using Large Icons. I have tried explicitly setting the properties to use Text Labels, but it makes no difference. The first folder I open in any given IE session uses text labels, and every folder I open subsequently uses Large Icons. If I return and open the original folder again, it displays using Text Labels. What is going on here? Is this happening to other people? Does anyone know how to fix the problem?

* * * * *

And more on CD-R drives from Tim Werth:

I'll add a few comments to those you've already received on CD-R's. As far as Dave Farquhar expecting to turn one out of every 5 blanks into coasters he either has some subpar components or he is sloppy when he burns CD-R's. The conventional wisdom is that Smart & Friendly CD-R drives are the best you can buy. Although the one I have is actually a Yamaha CDR400c drive sold under the Smart & Friendly brand.

EMPHASIZE get either one of the Adaptec software packages, both work well. I use Easy CD Creator Deluxe v. 3.5a and it works great for CD to CD and hard drive to CD. DO NOT try to install Easy CD Creator on NT 5 beta 2, it blows up NT 5 rather well. Adaptec has noted on their website that there are problems w/NT 5 Beta 2. Other than that I've seen Easy CD Creator installed on W95, W98, NTW 4 SP3, and NTS SP3 with no problems on any of them. I've also never bothered w/a "minimal" install that I boot into only to burn CD's. In a couple of years time I've only created one coaster (knock on wood) and that was because I was careless and didn't do a "Test & Copy". I just did a "Copy" and there was a problem w/something. Result was a coaster. The guy who sits next to me at work has a whole wall full of coasters because he is careless when he burns CD-R's, e.g. forget he's burning one and tries to access the drive, etc. Also do not try to burn a CD across the network, copy the data to the local hard drive first and then burn the CD. If you get a spike in traffic on the network while your burning a CD across the network you'll get a buffer underrun and you've made a coaster.

As far as IDE vs. SCSI go w/SCSI for both drives if possible. You'll find that the actual throughput of SCSI drives is much better at the same rated speed than a comparable speed IDE drive. Also, because SCSI controllers have their own processor they don't use much for CPU cycles. For instance we've had no problems making CD to CD copies using a 6X SCSI NEC drive and one of the Yamaha CDR drives burning at 4X. However, using an IDE reader takes roughly a 16X drive to burn at 4X reliably. If you went w/both an IDE burner and an IDE reader my guess is it would be even more CPU intensive. But I've never used an IDE burner so I'm not sure. With both drives being SCSI you can do some non CPU intensive work while you are burning CD's and still be fairly reliable. With a SCSI burner and an IDE reader I shut e-mail and everything else off while I burn a CD and go to lunch or start one burning when I leave for the night.

All in all I can recommend the Yamaha and HP SCSI burners highly. Be careful when you burn CD's and always use "Test and Copy" the first time you burn a given CD or copy from the hard drive. If you need to make multiple copies after you know the first one was successful you can skip the test phase. BUT, if you change anything run "Test & Copy" again, even if it's only a different brand of blank. Some brands of blanks can be burned at 4X reliably and some can't. I've had problems w/Imation, for example (don't know why). If you have problems w/something try burning at 2X or 1X to see if it will work. Like I said I've only created one coaster but I'm usually always careful and use a good combination of burner, reader, software and machine. YMMV

Thanks for taking the time to offer such detailed advice. Although I've gotten some conflicting advice, there also seems to be a great deal of consensus--IDE works but SCSI works better; get the Adaptec software, etc.  Pournelle is always talking about the "collective memory" of his readers, and I'm beginning to see what he means. I've gotten a better education about CD-R from my readers than I could have hoped to have gotten by reading articles and reviews.

* * * * *

And another one from Tim Werth, this about the response of my web site. The "this morning" he refers to was yesterday morning:

BTW,

Your web site sucked dead bunnies this morning for speed. I wasn't able to open your daynotes page all morning and sometimes couldn't even connect to ttgnet.com. Finally after lunch everything seemed to be moving okay and I was able to open the current daynotes page. So I suspect the company that hosts your website was having some problems this morning. Just thought you would want to know. Talk to you later.

Thanks for letting me know. Although it sounds stupid, I very seldom access my own web site directly. Instead, I use FrontPage on the local copy of the site, or read the local copy with IE or Navigator. So, I never know when my site is running slowly in the real world.

* * * * *

And still more on CD-R drives, this from Adam Lieber:

Just about any cd burner that wasn't of the first generation consumer products produced a few years ago would be sufficient for casual use. Make sure that the drive has at least a 2 megabyte cache to guard against buffer underruns. I have a cheap Hival 2x cdrw unit that I have never lost a cd to. Just make sure that the I/O in the system doesn't try to do things that IDE cannot. I mean, make sure that the burner is on a different IDE channel that the source. In my case, the source is an ultra wide scsi hard drive, but when I do a direct copy from a CD in my IDE 16x cdrom drive which is on a different channel, I still haven't had any problems. I run a dual processor machine under NT, so I feel fairly comfortable doing other tasks while the CD is burning, but you should be careful of the load on the CPU especially in source and target drives are IDE.

I prefer the Adaptec Easy CD suite to the other compilation applications because it integrates direct cd writing, music cd organization, and indexing really well. That software now seems to come bundled with quite a few of the drives.

Hope that helps.

It does, thanks. I've been steering clear of SCSI for a long time now. I have some experience with it on serious servers, but I never considered it an appropriate technology for home and small business. As a result, with all the computers I have here in my home office, not one of them has SCSI installed. I guess I'll need to do something about that, and I may or may not do so to support this CD-R drive I plan to get.

My current main workstation is a Pentium II/300 (soon to be 450) with an Ultra-DMA hard drive on one ATA channel and a 32x variable CD-ROM on the other. I was thinking about moving the CD drive to the same channel as the hard disk and installing a CD-R drive by itself on the second channel. I may still do that, but I'm seriously thinking about installing SCSI and getting a SCSI CD-R drive instead.

* * * * *

And this from Bo Leuf about site organization:

After your posting of the exchange about interleaving notes and mail, I realized you might have got the impression I was complaining about your decision to do so. Not at all. I was merely stating my position with regards to my own site.

No, not at all. I was just explaining my reasoning for why I do things as I do. I agree that doing things your way has some advantages, but on balance I prefer to keep things strictly sequential.

* * * * *

And still more from Bo Leuf:

Just a quick comment about the Friday postings. Good stuff about the future of MS. Great info about CD-R. I too am one of these people who lacks CD burn equipment. Thought about it last year, but then also there was more talk about DVD-R, so I held off, especially considering the marked increase of multiple-CD installation packages and the constantly growing size of harddisks.

Yes. I must confess that one of my character flaws is that I tend to make a decision and then stick to it. Sometimes that's good, but with technology it can be bad. For example, I decided many years ago that SCSI was a pure pain in the butt, suitable for servers (where its advantages outweighed its drawbacks), but completely unsuitable for anything else.

Same thing with CD-R. Years ago, my friend John Mikol bought one of the first "consumer grade" CD burners available, and I watched him turn blank after blank into coasters. And blanks back then were $10 apiece. Looking at things rationally, I should have realized that (a) this was very early technology and (b) that John hadn't had much practice yet and wasn't very good at it. Instead, I ended up with a hard-wired belief that CD-R didn't work very well.

At this point, I don't think DVD-R is going to be a viable technology soon, if ever. There are too many competing standards. And CD-R works right now and does pretty much what needs to be done. So there's not a lot of sense in putting it off much longer.

* * * * *

And the following from Mike Boyle:

I just bought a Gateway laptop, It came with win98 and Office SBE. My daughter just bought a $900 PC from Amptech. It came with win98 and Lotus Smart Suite. Microsoft isn't even selling Works to the cheap PC market.

Good point. Lotus SmartSuite must be really cheap, because I think someone told me once that Works costs PC manufacturers something like $25. Or perhaps SmartSuite costs more than Works, but Amptech wanted to give purchasers a full-blown office suite. As PC prices continue to plummet, I wonder how long it's going to be before someone ships a PC without any Microsoft software on it at all. They could bundle DR-DOS, which I believe is now freely distributable. And put something in the ads like, "Runs Windows 98 (not supplied)". They wouldn't exactly be telling people to run out and pirate a copy of Windows 98, but I'm sure that would be the effect. For that matter, there are any number of places now that sell PCs without any software included, advertising Windows 98 and Office as options. I wonder what percentage of their purchasers actually buy those options.

* * * * *

And this from Joshua Boyd:

I also don't own a CD-R, but my reason that at this moment I don't need one strongly enough to justify the cost. Most times that I need a CD burt I can pass the data on to a friend on a stack of ZIP disks, and he will do it for me (I've never needed a multi CD burn done.) Anyway, my impression from my friends experiences with CD-R is that almost anything current (say2x write, 6x read, or higher for both) is good enough. One hidden catch that I have been hearing about is that not all blank CD-R discs work with all CD-R drives, so buy small batches of disks until you figure out what works and what doesn't.

P.S. For my home network work, I want a large capacity tape drive. I hope to daily back up my data drive (a 4 gig drive, but only holding 3 gigs currently) and monthly (or more frequently if I make majors changes) backup the rest of the system (another 2 gigs). I'd like to only reuse the nightly tapes once a month, and the monthly tapes once a year to never. For this type of schedule, what do you see as the advantages of Travan vs DAT? Which ever I go with will need to be a scsi drive since this computer that I am backing up is out of IDE slots, and I wouldn't be able to stand the performance hit that parallel drives induce (this computer is frequently left compiling/downloading/rendering/whatever overnight.) I don't really need recommendations on specific drives, since I can look them up and compare them probably just as easily as you can, I just want comments on the two technologies. I am a college student, so price is a big factor.

Well, using the tape rotation you describe, there's no question that DAT is the hands-down winner on cost. Using a tape per day seven days a week and rotating them only once a month means you'll need 30 tapes for daily backups (assuming that you use a monthly tape one day in months that have 31 days), and at least 12 more for monthly backups. Although I haven't checked lately, the cheapest I've seen Travan TR-4 tapes for is almost $30. That'd mean you'd need to buy about $1,250 worth of tapes. You can get decent quality 4/8 GB DDS-2 tapes for $7 or $8 each, or about $300 for the number of tapes you'd need. That difference would pay for the DDS-2 DAT drive.

On the other hand, do you really need that many tapes? I think you could protect your data just about as well using a Daily, Weekly, Monthly Grandfather-Father-Son (GFS) rotation. That'd require five or six daily tapes, five weekly tapes, plus your monthly tapes. Using this type of rotation shifts the economics back in favor of Travan.

And, if you have a network, do you really need to be doing a daily backup to tape? I have a batch file that xcopies my data around my home network, duplicating only changed data onto hard drives on other machines. I run that batch file many times a day, and do a tape backup only once a week. I use a Seagate Tapestor Travan TR-4 IDE tape drive and have only four tapes, which I cycle through once a month. So far, at least, this seems to be working fine for me.

Incidentally, I talked about these issues in the NT Workstation backup article I have posted elsewhere on the site.

* * * * *

And now, back to work.

* * * * *

And this from Dave Wilson:

I noticed earlier this week you mentioned the number of hits you're getting. Does that mean you're thinking about running banner ads or something?

No. Never. There are a couple of things this site will never do:

  • Run ads of any sort. I hate ads. I hate television ads, radio ads, magazine ads, any kind of ads. I really hate that PBS's Mystery and American Movie Classics (AMC) have started running ads. But, most especially, I hate web ads. Even worse, running ads would call my impartiality into question. Right now, if I write that Maxtor makes good disk drives or that EPoX makes good system boards, you can believe it. If I started running ads from Maxtor or EPoX, you'd have to at least question the degree to which my judgement had been affected, even if only unintentionally, by the money they were paying me to run their ads.
  • Send bad cookies. As you know if you've been reading my page lately, I despise the increasing use of cookies to track users on the web. I won't rule out ever using cookies myself on this site, because cookies do have good and valid uses. But you can be sure that I'll never allow those nasty, poisonous cookies from the third-party companies that track usage patterns and establish databases from them.

I don't guarantee that this site will always be free, although I have no current plans to charge for accessing it. If I ever do begin charging, it'll be because I can offer more additional value for that money than the users would get if I kept it free. Right now, the trouble involved in getting merchant status to allow me to accept credit cards is more hassle than it would be worth to charge a $20 annual subscription (or whatever). Same thing with micro-money. If a ubiquitous micro-money standard already existing, I might sign up for it and start dinging readers five cents a day or whatever. But before I started doing that, I'd have to believe that most readers were already using micro-money. I'm sure not going to expect readers to go out and sign up for some micro-money scheme just so that they can read my site.

Right now, running the site probably costs me about $500 per year. That'll start increasing gradually as the size of the site increases and as increasing traffic takes me over the standard 2 GB per month of data transfer that's included in the monthly price. But that's a reasonably inexpensive hobby, which is just how I regard it. I get a few bucks from Amazon each quarter from people who've bought books from clicking on my links. Every once in a while, someone volunteers to send a donation, which I accept with my thanks. But that's about it for now.

* * * * *

And Tom Syroid sent me a copy of a message he'd received from Microsoft about some patches for some pretty severe security bugs in Microsoft products:

The first one has to do with a problem in the Forms 2.0 Control used in Microsoft Visual Basic for Applications, and automatically installed with Office 97, Project 98, Visual Basic 5.0, and some third-party applications. According to Microsoft, a malicious person could use the current Forms 2.0 Control to read or export text from the Clipboard when a user visits a web site or opens an HTML email message. The fix for that can be downloaded from: http://officeupdate.microsoft.com/downloadDetails/fm2paste.htm

The second is a Word 97 macro bug, the fix for which is available from: http://officeupdate.microsoft.com/downloaddetails/wd97sp.htm

The third is a patch for a problem that can occur when you archive Outlook data from your working folder to an archive folder. With the existing version of Outlook, there is a point in the process when messages have been removed from the source folder, but not yet written to the destination archive folder. If your PC loses power or crashes, those messages will be lost. The fix for this problem is not out yet, but will be posted at: http://officeupdate.microsoft.com/articles/outlookarchpatch.htm in February. Until that patch is available, Microsoft suggests that users not use archive or autoarchive functions in Outlook.

 


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Sunday, January 24, 1999

Surprisingly, not much mail overnight. Half a dozen or so private messages, fifteen or so messages from the mailing lists I belong to. And that was it, except for this from Bo Leuf:

On the topic of SCSI, this has always been contentious in the Wintel market. Especially when large and fast IDE harddisks have undercut what might have been a viable SCSI market (although much of that "fast" is undeniably due to the dramatic rise in CPU speeds, not just improvements in IDE).

I suppose it's just another example of evolution-in-action, where suboptimal components are tweaked, morphed and patched until they come to dominate a particular niche -- not because of performance as such, but because of the complex nature of the particular ecology they are in, and perhaps because they end up being "per unit cheaper" investments in large volumes. We see this process at work even with other computer peripherals, where functionality is moved from the peripheral to Windows code (modems, printers) -- making them cheaper, but also unusable for any other platform when the code is not there.

Today, we see SCSI in preciely those niches where interconnectability and the edge in performance matters, and when it is not acceptable to have the CPU overseeing every detail of data transfer. Hence the recommendations of SCSI for external units in general and for CD-R units in particular. One area which is still dominated by SCSI is the music recording one (also still using legacy Atari-MIDI machines a lot), because even though the same sequencing and mastering software has long been available for other platforms, the Wintel based solutions still show significant performance bottlenecks. And decent D2D (direct to disk recording) or real-time processing is, as I understand it, impossible unless you do it to a SCSI disk.

I came to computing by way of the 80s/90s Atari 16/32-bit machines, which pioneered a version of SCSI (ASCI) for harddisks and later made SCSI the default, and where plug&play was something we took for granted. Over the years, I became acutely aware of how IDE gradually pushed aside SCSI. This was largely because of the growing cost difference, and early issues dealing with PC SCSI-card bottlenecks. The push for MS PnP compatibility sometimes even made newer SCSI usits unusable with older SCSI ports, until someone figured out how to simulate PnP polling in the driver software without making a mess of it.

Now these days with the overall performance pc's have, I don't think much about it, but I can notice the "IDE-effect" in certain circumstances -- glitches when playing MODS and MIDI in Wintel for example that never occur on the much slower Atari (Falcon) platform. I can therefore well believe that mastering CDs to IDE can be more problematic than using SCSI.

It seems to me that SCSI has failed as a mass market standard for three reasons, high cost, non-standarization, and lack of BIOS support. Any one of the three would have hampered SCSI as a viable alternative to ATA. The three of them together have effectively put SCSI out of the running.

The cost differential is ridiculous. I compared two otherwise identical Seagate drives not long ago. The ATA version was $150, the SCSI $350. And that differential has remained relatively constant as the price of drives has dropped. When it was a matter of choosing between an $800 drive and a $1,000 one, there was some chance that SCSI would win on its merits, despite the 25% price hit. When it's $150 versus $350, not many people (or PC vendors) are going to pay a 133% premium. That also ignores the fact that embedded ATA interfaces are ubiquitous, and adding a SCSI interface costs still more. It also disregards the fact that ATA often has better performance than SCSI for single-user applications on PCs.

Then there's standardization. All ATA devices use a standard 40-wire cable (well, the new Ultra/66 devices use an 80-wire cable, but it still uses the standard 40-pin connector). You can connect essentially any ATA device to any ATA interface and expect it to work. SCSI devices are theoretically backward compatible, but they use so many different connectors and cables, that just getting one connected can be a problem. Then you have standard versus differential versus low-voltage differential. Ugh.

But I think lack of BIOS support is what really killed SCSI as a mass market PC technology. If one could just plug in a SCSI drive and have the PC recognize it without worrying about loading drivers or enabling the BIOS on a SCSI host adapter, a lot more manufacturers and users would have adopted SCSI as a standard drive interface. That in turn would have increased production volume, which would have reduced the cost differential, and would have aided standardization. I think that could have been done back when drives were expensive, but I think it's too late now for SCSI to ever be anything but a niche technology.

I haven't decided yet whether I'll go SCSI or ATA for my CD-R drive. But even if I go SCSI, it'll be just for that purpose.

* * * * *

Barbara is over at her parents' house now. Before she gets back and gets started on the weekly house cleaning, I want to get some laundry in progress, clean the bathrooms and straighten up generally. Also, I need to go rough out another chapter. I'd really like to finish another chapter by this coming Friday, but that's probably optimistic.

 



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.