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Daynotes Journal

Week of 28 June 1999

Sunday, 04 July 1999 09:23

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, 28 June 1999

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I see in the morning paper that several states have passed some desperately needed new laws. To wit:

  • South Carolina has outlawed the sale of urine
  • Utah has raised the marriage age from 14 to 16
  • Louisiana now mandates that students address teachers as "sir" or "ma'am" 
  • New Mexico now has an official state question, "Red or Green?"
  • Idaho has rescinded the $1,000 cap on prizes in charity rubber duck races.

So, can people caught with urine in South Carolina now be charged with possession of a controlled substance?

* * * * *

If you want to build one of those cheap dual-Celeron systems, now's the time to do it. Apparently, Intel is now considering disabling the AN15 pin in the Celeron, which will prevent them from being used in a dual-CPU environment. So long as dual-Celeron systems were limited to enthusiasts willing to drill holes, wire wrap pins, and so on, Intel didn't perceive much of a threat. The Slockets were the first crack in the dam. Now that Abit and others are actually producing dual Socket 370 motherboards, Intel apparently fears a flood of cheap dual-Celeron systems and has decided that enough is enough. Get 'em while you can...

* * * * *

This from Emily [emily16976@aol.com]: 

Congrats on your nice website that I've just visited! :-) 

One suggestion: I noticed the link to Shopper.com which is an excellent site IMO. You may want to add a link to another great comparison shopping site called Acses. 

Located at http://www.acses.com, it lets you find any book, CD, video or DVD and compare prices from all major online shops. So it's pretty much for books, music and movies what Shopper.com is for hardware and software.

Comments appreciated!

Thanks for the kind words. My links page is actually for my own use (I have the local copy of it set as the default page in IE), but I publish it just in case anyone else is interested. 

I tried Acses. It would indeed be useful if it worked reliably, but I had some problems with it. For example, I searched by title for my most recent O'Reilly book, "Windows NT TCP/IP Network Administration", and it told me that there were no books found. So I searched by author, "thompson, robert b.". It found the book, along with several of my others, but under the mangled title "Win NT TCP/IP Network Administration". What's interesting is that they apparently do the comparison search by ISBN rather than by title, because the comparison found that book at several sites, including Amazon, that I *know* list it by its proper title.

I'm sure many people would find this site useful, though. I don't buy purely on price, so the only thing I would use it for would be to compare prices among the dealers that I do buy from. That is, when I search Shopper.com or Price Watch for a particular computer product, I sort by price, but I ignore the cheapest sellers. I've not had good experiences in the past with the bottom-feeders--many of them ship late, not at all, or returned and repackaged products as new--so I simply locate the lowest price among the sellers that I'm willing to do business with. Shopper.com, incidentally, would be considerably more useful to me if it listed such vendors as Insight and PC Connection. About the only seller they do list that I do business with is NECx.

* * * * *

This from Neil Sherin [nsherin@mindless.com]:

Firstly, great work with the site. I am actually living in Hong Kong and look at least once a day at the site. Secondly, I use a 33.6K US Robotics Sportster modem to connect my desktop system (running NT Server 4.0) and two other PCs (1 Windows 95A and 1 Windows 98 SE) on a 10MB/s 10-baseT LAN. I have used WinProxy 1.4, which is similar to WinGate as far as I know. Do you happen to know of a way of getting NT to do NAT (Network Address Translation), as opposed to using a Proxy server? My RedHat Linux 6.0 installation on the same box that runs NT Server 4 has IP Masquerading configured and I wish to do the same with NT. Any help would be much appreciated.

I am also moving to a Dual Celeron system using 2 x 366Mhz Socket 370 Celerons, 2 MSI 6905 Socket 370 to Slot One adapters and a Tekram P6B40D-A5 Dual Motherboard. My 2 x 64MB 66Mhz DIMMS will also be replaced with a PC100 128MB DIMM. I'll keep you posted on this project which I'll do in about two weeks. It should be nice and fast for NT 4.0 and RedHat 6.0 (I also have Caldera OpenLinux 2.2 to look at).

Unfortunately, I have to run Windows 98 to use the TOSLINK Optical Out SP/DIF digital connector from my Sound Card if I want to record digitally from my PC to my MiniDisc recorder using the VideoLogic SonicVortex2. I am looking at the SB Live! Value and the Optical I/O output board (if ir works with NT). I want to utilise the 2 CPUs all of the time that I bought with my hard earned cash! A friend of mine is arguing that I shouldn't expect NT support for the Optical connector on my Vortex2, which is understandable, but what is unacceptable is that the company claim NT support and fail to tell the customer on the Web Site or product box that the Optical Connector will not function (he doesn't even think I should expect this nor that VideoLogic are wrong). He is an avid Linux user and claims NT is overkill for home use and to use 98, but I'd be inclined to say the same about Linux. However, some of us do use Windows and don't like it to lock up on us when doing something simple - e.g. adding an icon to the Office 97 shortcut bar, like I had to on my father's 95A box tonight, so we sensibly choose NT!

Thanks for the kind words. As far as I know, Microsoft provides no NAT support in NT, either natively or via Proxy Server. I did find the following page, however, which lists a lot of products that provide NAT services on NT. 

As far as NT at home, I don't see it as overkill at all. With memory selling for a buck a meg, hard disks for $10 a gig, and 400 MHz+ processors for under $100, the resource requirements of NT over and above those of Win9x are no longer an issue.

Of course, I don't do all the things that a lot of home users do. I once wrote a hardware review where I spoofed the Quake benchmarks you find over on Tom's Hardware and AnandTech. For my game benchmark, I used Solitaire and reported that "... when I won a game, the cards moved really, really fast."

There's no doubt that Win9x still has much broader hardware support than does NT, although that gap is disappearing fast. Once Windows 2000 Professional ships, if it ever does, I suspect Win9x will be relegated mostly to those using older PCs. W2KP's support for Plug-'N-Play and its broad support for peripherals should eliminate the last reasons to go with Win9x. It'll be faster than Win9x on systems with 64 MB or more, and is likely to be an order of magnitude more stable.

* * * * *

This from Neil Sherin [nsherin@mindless.com]:

Thanks for your quick reply! I noticed that WinNAT 1.0 had a free 2-user download, so I am grabbing that right now (be warned - it is 10MB and you are typically not told the download size). The Win95A system is not actually networked, so the 2 user version will be fine, as it supports Win NT 4.0 and 9x.

I've actually been an NT user on and off since September 96 when I finally got my first PC for my own use at home (AMD 5x86-133 with 20MB which was a high-end 486 just a bit faster than a P75. Until I bought 128MB RAN last Christmas, NT was really not usable. With the k6-2/300, it is quite snappy and I've got about 17G total storage in this box (10.1G, 4.3G and 2.5G hard disks). I've also got a Zip Plus sitting on SCSI, as well as an HP 4GB (compressed) DAT drive, which I picked up for U$20 (the guy who was selling it knew nothing about it and that was all he wanted), along with my trusty Panasonic 4xW, 8xR SCSI CD-R.

Glad I could help. Incidentally, I forgot to ask last time, but why are you replacing your PC66 SDRAM on the system running dual Celeron/366 CPUs? Running a 100 MHz FSB with those CPUs puts you at 550 MHz, which probably isn't going to work. Or are you planning to use something odd like 83 MHz FSB?

* * * * *

This from Matt Beland [belandm@syspac.com]: 

I am a fairly new Linux user, and I used Moshe Bar's setup that he used in his report to Jerry Pournelle. The report is linked off Jerry's front index page, not that anyone goes there anymore. :) It worked really well, I was up and running in 24 hours, and he even provides the necessary scripts and configuration files. Good thing to look at for new Linux users. 

Matt Beland
belandm@syspac.com

I'd read through that article when he first posted it, but I'd forgotten it was there. Bringing up a Linux box is on my list of things to do, albeit toward the bottom of the list, so I'll be sure to check this article before I start.

 


 

 

 

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Tuesday, 29 June 1999

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Regular reader and contributor Shawn Wallbridge has opened his own web site, http://www.maximum-tech.com/. For now, you can read his personal page at http://www.maximum-tech.com/shawn.htm. He has some interesting stuff there, including daily notes on his experiences with Windows 2000.

* * * * *

Productive day yesterday. I got a couple of thousand words written on the book, exchanged tons of email and phone calls with vendors, and got a couple of new systems planned out. I'm going to shoot for at least another couple thousand words today. That should be a realistic goal, given that I don't have many vendor calls scheduled for today. We'll see what happens.

* * * * *

Interesting news on the FrontPage front. I may have been too hard on Microsoft. If so, I apologize to them. Pournelle says in Sunday's View that when Microsoft called him Monday morning (yes, I know, but then Pournelle is a noted SF author, so temporal displacement is commonplace for him...) they explained that the extensions work just fine if they are installed correctly. Now, it is conceivable that pair Networks does not know how to install and configure the FrontPage extensions properly, although they do host tens of thousands of web sites, including many that run FrontPage. On the other hand, say what you will about Microsoft, their people are good, hard working, and honest, almost without exception. When one of them says that something is or is not the case, I tend to believe him.

It may be that, in the words of Cool Hand Luke, "what we have here is a failure to communicate." If the problems with the FrontPage extensions at pair Networks are in fact a result of misconfiguration rather than inherent flaws in the product, the fault may lie with pair Networks for paying insufficient attention to how the extensions should be configured, or it may lie with Microsoft for providing inadequate documentation. In either event, the problem should be solvable. But until someone can point me to an actual real-world web site of 25 MB or larger that is in fact using the extensions successfully, I have no way to judge. Any number of people have said anecdotally that FP extensions work, but I've yet to have anyone actually point to a working large-scale site that uses the extensions. 

Actually, whether they work or not is of no concern to me now. I'm happily running without them, and will continue to do so. But it would be nice to know the truth about this whole matter.

* * * * *

I spent a long time on the phone yesterday with Larry Aldridge at PC Power & Cooling. Among other things, we talked about power supplies. I asked him why PCP&C power supplies were better than the cheap Taiwanese stuff used in most systems. Most of what he said--bigger capacitors, ball bearing fans, running at a fraction of component ratings rather than near rated capacity, and so on--I already knew about. But he mentioned one thing that I didn't know about. 

Apparently, PCP&C frequently gets calls from customers who've just installed one of their power supplies, saying something like, "my system seems to be running faster now. Is that possible?" Larry's answer is that the system is now running the way it's supposed to run. Apparently, less capable power supplies strain to supply the properly regulated voltage required by the hard drive. As a result, although all modern hard drives are designed to run at a 1:1 interleave, many systems are not ready to read the next sector by the time it's under the drive head. The drive has to complete another rotation before that sector can be read, which greatly damages hard disk throughput. 

I've been building and working on PCs for more than 20 years now, and that's the first time I'd heard of that problem. Perhaps that explains the terrible performance of the Seagate UltraDMA hard disk in the system sitting behind me, which has a no-name Taiwanese power supply in it. Who'd have ever thought that replacing your power supply with a PCP&C unit could actually make your system run faster? I have a PCP&C power supply on the way in, so I'll replace the power supply in that system and see what happens.

* * * * *

This from Paul Robichaux [paul@robichaux.net]: 

I've noticed a distressing number of timeouts with simple FTP puts of my web site using the Mac Anarchie FTP client. It has a "mirror put" that works like FP's Publish commands. I use Dreamweaver to work on my site, but its built-in FTP client frequently times out or, worse, hangs when talking to pair, so I switched to Anarchie. Same problem-- even putting a 2Kb file will sometimes time out. I don't think it's the inactivity timer on the FTP server process, and I haven't done enough digging to figure out what it really is-- but there's more going on, IMHO, than just pair's assertions that FP is completely to blame.

Cheers,

-Paul

--
Paul Robichaux | paul@robichaux.net | <http://www.robichaux.net>
Robichaux & Associates: programming, writing, teaching, consulting

Hmm. I've not experienced anything like that. My problems with FTP Voyager had to do with the fact that its synchronization didn't work. I've not had any problem at all with the ftp client bundled into FP as the Web Publishing Wizard (or whatever they call it). My first thought would be that perhaps there's something weird in the Mac TCP/IP implementation. Can you try publishing from a Wintel box to see what happens?

* * * * *

This from Tom Syroid [tsyroid@home.com]: 

Yeah, I hear ya'...

Thanks for posting your links page. What a prize that was! I don't remember you mentioning it before (but what the heck, I'm over forty now) and I hungrily bookmarked it. I see we read a lot of the same stuff -- but you also lead me to some very interesting places I didn't know about.

Glad you like it. Actually, it's very much a work-in-progress. I'm gradually adding stuff as I actually hit the sites in question. Ultimately, my links page will probably be five to ten times its current size, perhaps more. I was messing about the other day with expandable/collapsible outlines, but I noticed FrontPage embedding JavaScript in my page, and that scared me. Perhaps I'll be forced to give it another try as the size of that page balloons. 

* * * * *

Several messages from Bruce C. Denman [bdenman@ftc-i.net] [http://web.infoave.net/~bdenman], which contain quite a few interesting observations and questions. I've simply posted them as a continuing series, with my comments embedded:

Regarding your comment: "So, can people caught with urine in South Carolina now be charged with possession of a controlled substance" Let see. The State Attorney General (C. Condon) said "Those who profit by polluting drug tests must be punished," he said. And Kenneth Curtis (the seller in question) said he won't say how much business he is doing, but says most comes from out-of-state customers. "I make a decent living" he said.

Bottom line: Screening urine for drugs has become necessary to protect the body politic from some idiots (like in transportation industry) who take drugs. And now there are those who wish to circumvent to profit from druggies by selling (chortle) "clean" urine. Free market enterprise snuffed out in the slash of a pen.

Probably shows how poorly some places run the urine collection if they cannot preclude substitution.

Well, I posted that material in jest, but it does bring up a serious point. I don't concede that screening urine for drugs is in any respect "necessary." When mandated by a private company, that is acceptable, because any employee has the right to refuse the test and find work elsewhere. But when mandated by a governmental or pseudo-governmental body, such testing is clearly in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Such bodies should be permitted to require such tests only by establishing that probable cause exists and apply for and being granted a search warrant. Period.

I figured you posted in jest; on the surface it does sound silly.

But since we license people to do certain things (like drive) I wonder if we are not defacto giving consent and thus no warrant is required to ensure compliance of the law. I am no lawyer but seems we are better off testing folks who have other peoples lives directly in their care (i.e. pilots; train engineers; truck drivers). I remember when the military had a major problem with drug abuse and testing eliminated much of it. Too much was at stake even in peacetime. And by default folks in the military give up certain constitutional rights upon entering military service. But that is another complex topic in and of itself.

Well, I quote the Fourth Amendment:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

That seems pretty clear-cut to me. And people wonder why I have a link to the Bill of Rights on my links page.

Its has hit me that as you talk about Kerby et al.; I have no real understanding of just what systems you have in house. I know you covered that in part and you have a page for that...but the detail is a bit skimpy (no video cards; cd roms; sound cards). I personally am looking to upgrade my video card, sound card, CDROM and case ...someday. And would be curious to know what you have that works well. 

You're right. I should probably update that page much more frequently and provide much more detail, but it's just not a high priority. Part of the problem is that things are very fluid around here. Barbara has a main system named thoth; I have four computers on and under my desk: my main workstation, kerby; my secondary workstation, sherlock; a resource server, currently named "temp"; and a test-bed system, currently sulla. In addition, there's another test-bed system on my credenza that's not really recognizable as a computer. It is a working computer, but has no case. The components simply lie on the work surface. Then there are other computers that perform specialized functions: a NetWare server, theodore; a voicemail/automated attendant system, valentine. There are several others similarly dedicated to particular purposes. Then there's the scads of stuff I have covering every horizontal surface (just ask my wife). Over the next couple of weekends, we'll be building at least two more and possibly as many as four more computers, which will be dedicated to such things as a Win98 test-bed; a Win2K Professional test-bed; a Linux test-bed, and so on. Stuff migrates back and forth between various systems, so saying what has what at any given moment is an exercise in frustration...

All of that said, I will be creating a new web site for PC Hardware in a Nutshell and PC Hardware: The Definitive Guide (or perhaps two web sites). These will include a "Recommended" page of stuff we actually use and find useful, including low-cost & high-performance options. For example, we might recommend the Toshiba XM-6402B 32X ATAPI CD-ROM drive for those on a budget, while we'll recommend the Plextor UltraPlex Wide SCSI CD-ROM drive for those who are looking for take-no-prisoners performance. Or we might recommend a $200+ Matrox Millennium G400/Max for those who want killer 2D/3D performance and are willing to pay for it, while recommending a $35 Intel i740-based video card for those who want maximum bang for the buck.

Might also be interesting to hear your take on the video card revolution we are in. While you and I are not gamers; that market seems to be a major factor in the video card business and recent mergers potentially are going to have some profound effects. It is moving to where each major Card manufacturer will have their own proprietary chip. Matrox has had own MGA chip; STB now is 3dfx/Voodoo; Diamond bought out S3. Not sure what the Intel chip is doing other than languishing. Any thoughts?

The rest of us are benefiting from the technology that's been rolled out to appeal to gamers. A few years ago, there were real differences in video cards and chipsets that impacted regular users. Nowadays, just about anything good enough to claim some shelf space is going to be more than sufficient for any but the very hard-core gamer. Performance benchmarks and the similar stuff that claims so much attention over on AnandTech and Tom's Hardware really doesn't have a lot to do with the real world. Any video card based on the TNT2, Voodoo3, or G400 is so fast that distinctions are meaningless to the 99.99% of computer users that don't live in Quake. 

Much more important than raw speed are issues like driver functionality and stability, hardware compatibility and quality, and so on. I've used Matrox video cards for years, and nothing I've seen from other manufacturers even tempts me to change that. As far as the vertical integration you mention, companies like Matrox and ATI have always used their own chipsets. Other companies are beginning to see the advantages of such vertical integration, but the likely result is a consolidation in the video card industry. My guess is that there will be only a handful of video card manufacturers two years from now. Which those will be will depend on how good a job their marketing and engineering departments do. My guess is that Matrox will continue as the Gold Standard in business video; nVIDIA and their TNT line will eventually kill 3dfx and the Voodoo. There will probably be one or two other major or semi-major players remaining, possibly including Intel, and a handful of also rans.

Sound cards are also in a weird flux. Creative has had the majority of the business for a long time. Yet they have really clouded the picture in the last year. Reportedly they had problems with a PCI version so they went out and bought out Ensoniq who had one that worked. Along side their ISA line they have their PCI line which includes the Creative Ensoniq card, the PCI 128; PCI 512, SB Live Value and LB Live. Interesting that they own the market yet have made it so difficult to choose. I asked some salesmen today and got standard disinformation. PCI 512 is replacing the SBValue (nope); the PCI 512 is better than LIVE (not according to Creative); the Live is problematic <?>; the Ensoniq card is cr*p (hmmm); etc. \

I must confess that I don't know all that much about sound cards, although that will change as I start writing about them. Once again, I'm not a gamer, so I haven't had reason to look at the high-end stuff. I think that eventually sound cards will go away, except for very high-end cards designed for gamers and dedicated cards used by professional audio folks. Note the increasing number of motherboards that embed sound functions, many using the Creative ES1373 chip. The sound that chip provides has been more than good enough for anything I've cared to do. We'll see what happens as I get deeper into sound.

Modems: seems with the advent of internal PCI modems; hardware modems are disappearing. Seems like all PCI modems are software based (like USR's WinModem). Soon it appears the only way to get a "real" modem is go external. Any ideas as to why other than cost? 

Modems are essentially at the end of their life cycle. With V.90, the technology has gotten about as good as it's ever going to get. Not much more can be done with modems because a standard telephone line provides only 3 KHz of bandwidth (2,600 Hz with guard bands). We're very nearly at the theoretical Shannon Limit now. So basically, modems have become a commodity. As with any commoditized product, the low-cost producer is the guy who makes the money. One way to be a low-cost modem producer is to offload processing from a chip on the modem board itself to the main system CPU. That's the reason (and the only reason) for the so-called WinModems. They're a horrible idea, but they allow the manufacturer to save a few bucks. In an industry where saving a few cents is a goal worth pursuing, saving dollars is the Holy Grail. But buying an external modem is a better idea anyway.

Last question: just a personal aside. I am trying to help a friend get a stick of SDRAM for his Dell XPS M166S (nice coincidence). Does yours use regular PC-66 SDRAM (32MB)? (the tech sheet is the same for both).

I ordered my Dell Dimension XPS-M200s with 64 MB installed, so I don't know from firsthand experience. However, you can find memory facts for these systems here. That page says, "The only 32-MB SDRAM DIMMs validated for use in this computer are the following: Samsung KMM366S403AT1-G2, Hitachi HB526A464EN-10, Samsung KMM366S403AT-G2, Toshiba THMY644021AEG-12A.

But I suspect you'll find that any equivalent DIMM will work just fine.

Guess I am in verbose mode tonight; sorry....

kerby = Dell XPS M200S = VX chipset; max cache 64MB; so looks like Dell was being honest (more than most) with you. How many motherboards were built to accomodate more RAM than they could cache? (bunch)

Dell: my friends two year old XPS M166S recently had a hard disk crash (WD). We called Dell who honored their warranty. Dell; not WD, sent a replacement (secured with credit card). He got a bigger Maxtor in return; it might have been a refurb but the disk warranty is for three years. That should mean something to a buyer; support. 

Gateway: I too bought one in 1990; a 486DX/33. whoo woooo. Still have the case; I let the m/b decorate a wall shelf for a couple years (gone now). Twas a big sucker. I think I called for support once. Anyway; today I was in Columbia, SC and stopped by their new Gateway Country store there. Nice store; very big; lots of employees. Wonder how they gonna make it (probably business sales). Having a walk-in service dept might help the home buyer. I asked Tim the salesman about their current shipping time: seven days and soon to be shorter after a software upgrade. In 1990 it was 24! ouch. Got same story in '92 when I needed one at my office so I ended up buying one locally made (486SX33).

Modems: I have noticed significantly faster downloads with a V.90 modem when getting large files. That might be of use to some (like those who want to d/l MSIE 5 from MS). I average 5KB/sec; bout twice what I got before. And some us will grow old waiting for our phone systems to implement xDSL. 

Win98SE: waiting for MS to send me the $20 disk. tap tap tap tap

Yes, I bought sherlock fully aware that it would never have more than the 64 MB of RAM I ordered it with. At the time, 64 MB seemed likely to be enough for the life of the system. Nowadays, I build Win98 boxes with 64 MB, and NT boxes with at least 128 MB. There's a lesson there...

I no longer buy systems from Dell or Gateway, although I continue to recommend Dell to friends who are considering buying a machine. Gateway's tech support simply got so bad that I could no longer recommend them. Also, the historic price difference between Gateway and Dell of $200 to $300 has completely disappeared, and that differential was my only reason ever for buying Gateway. Gateway simply makes no sense to me now that Dell is at or very near Gateway's price (and often below it).

As far as modems, I'm still running a 33.6 USR Courier v.Everything. I get about 3.3 to 3.5 KB/s. For a long time, it wasn't worth upgrading to 56 KB/s for me, because we're at the very end of a long local loop. A year or so back, the phone company buried a SLC (subscriber loop circuit) box (one of those things the size of a tractor-trailer) in a parking lot at a shopping center a mile or so from here. Now I get 31.6 connections almost every time, and could probably get pretty high throughput with a V.90 modem. But I'm perfectly happy with 31.6. All my mail runs in the background, WinGate caches web pages for me, etc. A 56K modem just won't do much for me. I'm holding out for ADSL and/or cable modem.

I have asked my local screwdriver store to check with his supplier about that (gave him Dell info). Otherwise I might just grab one next time I drive up to his area (Florence). I told friend to call his local store...they gave him a ration of sh*t and said it would be $75 to upgrade. sigh

Oh; another item: you talked about us all going to W2K at some point. NT has always been more expensive than Win9X to just buy outright (one reason I have never played with NT). In the last week, two retailers I have visited listed Win98SE for $159 (one with Plus included; whoopie zip). This is $30 over current Win95/OSR 2.5c. When I left the business two years ago Win95/OSR2 (with plus) was going for about $100 (generally included with full systems only). Makes me wonder if the small OEMS have had a price increase or if just different marketing. Might also be easing us into the price range of NT. Course; the big retailers will still have the edge.

I haven't looked at the price of RAM recently, but $75 seems high for a 32 MB upgrade. As far as the cost of NT, I'm sure it varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Dell pays a lot less for it, I'm sure, than a smaller maker. On the other hand, now that Dell is selling systems with Linux pre-installed, they may suddenly find they're paying more for NT. At any rate, the actual cost of NT Workstation versus Windows 98 is indicated by the fact that most dealers charge $49 to $99 additional for NT. I've seen NTW advertised for about $40 more than the same place was charging for a full Windows 98, so the price difference shouldn't be a major issue.

 


 

 

 

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Wednesday, 30 June 1999

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What a way to start the day. I was working on this page when Barbara headed down the stairs to leave for the library. She called up to tell me that Kerry, our older Border Collie, had been sick all over the place. He had a minor accident last night, so we gave him some Imodium and left the door into the unfinished part of the basement open for him. When I got downstairs this morning, there were accidents all over the carpet in my mother's apartment, as well as all over the floor in the basement. Probably 15 or 20 separate little surprises. I used the hose to wash out the basement (and the dog), but that wasn't an option in my mother's apartment. What a way to start the day.

* * * * *

Microsoft still hasn't made Windows 98 Service Pack 1 available for download as a single integrated product, but they have put parts of it up on their corporate page here. It's "corporate" only in the sense that you can download the updates in batch mode and apply them locally to multiple machines, as opposed to the "Windows Update" feature, which requires you to download each update individually for each machine you want to patch.

* * * * *

This from Ricky Mortimer [ricky.mortimer@bt.com]: 

I am trying to decide which upgrade path to take from a single ATA33 IDE drive. I have the obvious SCSI or ATA dilemma.

Have you any results of your Promise Fast Track IDE RAID Controller yet. This looks a good option on the face of it but I am interested in the performance compared with SCSI UW/U2W.

The Promise FastTrak is a good solution for small servers and high-end personal PCs. I've posted an updated review on the original FastTrak here.

You may also want to consider the FastTrak/66, which support Ultra/66 drives. The Promise FastTrak gets around a lot of the limitations of ATA, but it is still ATA, and cannot compete on an equal footing with a high-end (U2W) SCSI solution. On the other hand, it doesn't cost like U2W, either.

My advice is to go with the FastTrak or FastTrak/66 for either a personal workstation or a small (< 10 or 15 users) server. For bigger servers, SCSI is the way to go. For a personal workstation, SCSI may also be the way to go if:

a. The additional cost is not a major barrier
b. You are running Windows NT rather than Windows 95/98.
c. You work with very large files in a disk-intensive environment.
d. You need to use the largest, fastest hard disks available.

* * * * *

This from Shawn Wallbridge [shawnw@elections.mb.ca]: 

You said...

But until someone can point me to an actual real-world web site of 25 MB or larger that is in fact using the extensions successfully, I have no way to judge. Any number of people have said anecdotally that FP extensions work, but I've yet to have anyone actually point to a working large-scale site that uses the extensions. 

Well.....

I had mentioned to you that we use FP extensions to publish our site. We were working on our new site when I talked to you. Well I uploaded it last week. It took about 30 minutes over a T1 to publish, without any errors. I checked out the size of our current elections site and it is about 25MB. Our boundaries site is well over 100MB, which also published fine using FP extensions. Our site is at www.elections.mb.ca. I think the problems with pair are due to the fact that it is running on Unix.

On another note, thank you for mentioning my site today. I just decided to do it on Friday, so I have not put much up yet. I basically took your advice and Just did it. I don't expect to even try to compete with Anand or Tom. I just want to have some fun. I plan to do some hardware, but more articles on programming and software. I wasn't really expecting you or Tom to mention it. Now I really have to get to work. I think running my own web server will be a good learning experience. I just hope Shaw doesn't find out.

I'm sorry. I wasn't clear. What I meant was an example site that was running on UNIX. I have no doubt that FP Extensions work correctly on NT. But the problem seems to be with UNIX, either because pair has not configured it correctly or because the UNIX version of the Extensions simply doesn't work properly.

As far as your web site, you might not have expected Tom or me to mention it, but you should have. That's one of the interesting things about the web. News gets out fast. If you're set up to log accesses (which you should be), I suspect you'll find you'll be getting hits from all over the world soon. As far as Shaw, I'm not sure why they care how you choose to use your upload quota. Speaking of which, some may not be aware that @Home has quietly implemented a 128 K/s upload throttle on their accounts. They're still advertising that they provide speeds hundreds of times faster than dial-up, which obviously is not the case with uploads limited to 128 K/s, but there it is.

* * * * *

This followup from Shawn Wallbridge [shawnw@elections.mb.ca]: 

OK I didn't realize you were talking about UNIX. When I was talking to Tom last week I told him that I believed the problem was with UNIX not FP extensions in general. I am curious, does Microsoft provide the FP extensions to run under UNIX? If they do that would be a perfect (although scummy) way of making sure NT performs better than UNIX for web serving. Just an thought.

I am not upset in any way, I was just hoping to improve it a bit before I went 'public'. I was joking today at work that I had an increase of 1400% hits, just from the two of you mentioning it. When I read your site today I went and put a counter on the main page. By 1pm (our time) I had 14 hits. I have to take a look at the logging, I know I set it to log, but I haven't looked at it yet.

A Shaw service technician told me about the limit a few weeks ago, I hadn't noticed it. I actually do lots of updates during my lunch hour at work. I work directly off my server and it seems pretty quick to me. They did mention a new package coming soon called @Work that will provide 8 IP's and no bandwidth limits. The only drawback is the cost, which is $105/month. Which is perfectly reasonable for a business, but is a little pricey for me.

Yes, Microsoft does provide UNIX extensions. I doubt there's any conscious attempt on their part to make the UNIX versions less capable than the NT versions, but I suspect a lot more attention is paid to the NT versions. Congratulations on your site. I suspect you'll be getting a lot more than 14 hits before long. I guess the restrictions and new tier of service are kind of inevitable. A lot of people will be taking advantage of that cheap big pipe, but ultimately it all comes back to how big Shaw's pipe to the Internet is. On the other hand, a lot of web sites have run successfully with a 128 K/s pipe, so I suspect you'll be fine.

* * * * *

This from Dave Farquhar [farquhar@lcms.org]: 

Thanks for that pointer on the power supply. It makes perfect sense, but it's not something I ever thought of. At $99, a 300W PCP&C power supply isn't an outrageously-priced upgrade, and if you're building a new system, why not put the good stuff in from the start?

As for memory, $75 is an outrageous price for a 32-meg module. Tiger Direct is selling PNY 128-meg PC100 DIMMs for $89 after rebate right now. (Limit one per household, of course, which irks me--at that price I'd love to see how my systems run with 384 megs of RAM.) I prefer Crucial, but I've had good luck with PNY in the past.

Sounds like a motherboard swap would almost be prudent--that $89 DIMM plus a new motherboard would cost less than two of those 32-meg DIMMs. But be careful--I had a Dell at work that had what looked like an ATX power supply in it. Observing that 64 megs of RAM is no longer adequate, I tried dropping an off-the-shelf Super7 AOpen motherboard into it, and couldn't get it to work. I swapped the factory board back in, and it worked fine. I don't know what voltages that power supply was delivering, but it blew the board.

Before doing so, giving a call to Dell technical support to see if you can find out whether your particular system uses a standard ATX power supply would certainly be a good idea.

But sometimes when you need memory, it's worth it to just go ahead and get a new motherboard while you're at it, so you can use whatever the current commodity memory is.

Dave Farquhar
Microcomputer Analyst, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod
farquhar@lcms.org

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

Indeed. PC Power & Cooling isn't the only company that makes decent power supplies, but in my experience they make the best ones. And they're not really that expensive. One can get one of their lower power units for under $50, and even the 300W units cluster around $100.

As far as the RAM, I was assuming that the $75 price was for a 32 MB DIMM installed. I consider that a pretty high price. If it was for the DIMM alone, that's outrageous. As far as running 384 MB, I think you might find that overkill. In my experience with NT, the move from 32 MB to 64 MB makes a huge improvement; from 64 MB to 128 MB makes a big improvement; from 128 MB to 256 MB makes a barely noticeable improvement. That obviously depends a lot on what you're doing. If you're an industrial strength Photoshop user, 256 MB is almost certainly worthwhile, and more would help. If you're running a typical application mix, though, 128 MB is definitely the sweet spot for NT.

I was surprised to learn of the problem with the Dell power supply. I'd never thought about it. I've come to expect that kind of thing from Compaq, which has a tendency to use proprietary designs for what appears to be the sole sake of being proprietary, but I'd have thought that Dell would stick to standard components.

I agree about the memory/motherboard issue. While the cost of a new motherboard isn't trivial, there are many benefits to getting one. Not least is having a current chipset with support for large hard drives and for new technologies like AGP and UDMA. I'd agree that anyone who is considering spending a significant amount of money on a memory upgrade should compare the total costs of simply buying additional older style memory versus buying a new motherboard with memory to fit it.

* * * * *

This followup from Dave Farquhar [farquhar@lcms.org]: 

My thoughts on having 384MB are primarily for use as a RAM disk (I'm showing my Amiga heritage I guess); once you get above 64 MB for Win9x and 128 MB for NT, using a RAM disk is suddenly practical again. I've successfully run Windows 95 from a RAM disk on high-memory machines; it's not for the timid but the speed is nice. Getting Windows into the RAM disk is a convoluted process (it's a full book chapter, and it took me the better part of a weekend to figure it out), but it's far faster than a 10,000-rpm SCSI hard drive and cheaper too. Do we really need a 10,000-rpm hard drive to hold our data? Most of us don't. But if you're prudent, you can cram your speed-critical apps (and maybe Win9x if you want) into a 320-meg RAM disk.

Under NT, putting the OS in a RAM disk probably isn't an option, but you could keep apps there.

Well, that's a radical thought. I can't imagine running Windows 98 on a 384 MB system, but I guess it sure would be fast running from a RAM disk. On the other hand, I'd think it'd be pretty fast running natively in 384 MB as well.

* * * * *

This from Colm De Barra [colm@lab.cio.dnp.co.jp]:  

I just recently found your website and I like it a lot. I was trawling through your daybook notes when I saw a comment you made about the relative stability of Windows NT 4.0 considering that it generally ends up running on boxes of no-name parts cobbled together, compared to UNIX variants written for specific hardware. Well I'd just like to point out that Linux also runs on the same kind of hardware as Windows NT but achieves the same kind of stability as commercial UNIXes running on specialised hardware. 

By the way I'm not a rabid slashdotting Linux fan, but I can't profess to a great fondness for Microsoft products either - especially after spending a year working in an IT support role where the main OS platforms I dealt with were Windows NT and 95.

Thanks for the kind words. I probably wasn't clear about the hardware issues. With Windows NT, people assume that they can assemble any kind of miscellaneous collection of pieces and have NT work. Microsoft is up-front about what's certified to run NT, and I've never had any stability problems running NT on a box that was fully HCL-compliant. For that matter, I've had few problems running NT on one that wasn't, but used recent mainstream components. The problems start when people attempt to run NT with old components or strange no-name stuff, and particularly with third-party drivers. That's not an issue with Linux, which supports a much narrower range of hardware than does NT. Also, with Linux, drivers are developed on the Open Source model, with ad hoc peer review, an advantage that third-party drivers don't have.

My gut reaction is that NT and UNIX variants are about the same in terms of overall stability at the kernel level. I have NT servers that run for months on end without a reboot. In fact, about the only reason that our NT machines get shutdown (other than for hardware or driver upgrades) is when we have a long-term power failure. My wife's main workstation, thoth, is also the main data depository on our network. It once ran for more than seven months without a reboot. The only reason that string was broken was a major power failure. I have spoken to many people who routinely run NT for a year a more without a reboot, so I don't think the inherent stability of NT is the issue.

 


 

 

 

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Thursday, 1 July 1999

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Well, Barbara concluded that perhaps the dog food was at fault. We didn't really think that was the likely cause, but Duncan started refusing to eat it a couple of weeks ago. He went days without eating, until we finally gave him another brand of dog food. At that point, we figured he was just being weird, as Border Collies often are, so we started giving the old food to Kerry. Kerry is the anti-Mikey--he'll eat anything. So when Kerry started having diarrhea and vomiting, we figured that perhaps the dog food was bad.

That meant disposing of 30 or 35 pounds (say 15 kilos) of dog food. We thought about putting it in the trash, but I came up with the brilliant idea of putting it down the disposer in the kitchen sink. Not one of my better ideas. The disposer clogged and overheated. We kept trying to reset it after letting it cool, and were able to get a bit down at a time. What I really needed was one of those gasoline-powered disposers that Tim Taylor installed on Tool Time. We did eventually get it down, though.

And just as the last chunk of dog food disappeared down the disposer, Barbara decided to empty the bucket of water that she had her paint brushes and rollers soaking in. The roller was jammed on the handle pretty tightly, and as she yanked on it, it came off. Unfortunately, it let go suddenly, and the bucket of white paint-water ended up all over the kitchen and both of us. At that point, all you can do is laugh. In the immortal words of someone or another, "I should have stood in bed."

* * * * *

Here's an attempted intellectual property grab of mammoth proportions. Wired.com reports that Yahoo, which recently bought GeoCities, has instituted a few minor changes in the service agreement for GeoCities users. In simple terms, Yahoo claims unlimited and irrevocable rights to any content posted on GeoCities. That's right, if you maintain a web site on GeoCities, tough break. Yahoo says it owns all web pages, articles, and images on member sites and has irrevocable rights to them for all time. Geez. 

* * * * *

Sometimes I wonder if I'm the only one who reports on common IE bugs. I keep running across them. I mean, it's not like these are particularly obscure bugs, and yet I see nothing in the mainstream media about them. Here's another one, which didn't crop up with my original IE5 installation, but has occurred ever since I installed Office 2000. The fonts don't stay put. IE offers five standard font sizes, from Smallest through Largest, with the middle setting, Medium, the default. I've always kept my default font size set to Larger, but that no longer works properly. 

IE arbitrarily resets the default font size to Medium, and I can find no rhyme or reason for it. It makes no difference whether or not other instances of IE are open. For example, I have my default start page set to the local copy of the Links page for this site (that, incidentally, is itself a workaround for the fact that selecting a URL from a menu on the links bar opens that URL in the first instance of IE rather than the current active instance). If I start IE, it may come up in Medium. I reset it to Larger and exit. I then immediately start IE again. Half the time, it comes up in Medium, and half the time in Larger. The only consistent aspect of all this is that once IE comes up in Medium, it will never again come up in Larger until I manually choose Larger.

* * * * *

This from Frank A. Love [falove@home.com] regarding the Promise FastTrak IDE RAID controller:

If used as a secondary IDE interface card (leaving the motherboard IDE interfaces active), wouldn't you have to have two more interrupts free for the two additional IDE channels present? Given that most current motherboards have so much stuff built-in don't you wind up losing the built-in interfaces to make your new, improved hardware work?

No. Embedded ATA interfaces on motherboards require one IRQ for the Primary channel and a second IRQ for the Secondary channel. The Promise FastTrak requires only one IRQ to support all four devices. In theory, you could keep both Primary and Secondary enabled on the motherboard and allocate an unused IRQ to the FastTrak, which would allow you to support eight devices (two on each embedded controller and four on the FastTrak). In practice, there are not many systems with that many drive bays or that many free IRQs. Probably the best overall solution is to keep your boot drive and CD-ROM drive on the embedded Primary controller, disable the Secondary controller, assign its IRQ to the FastTrak, and use the FastTrak to support two, three, or four drives in an array.

* * * * *

This from Andrew Sabel [asabel@wrtsun02.svidaho.net]:

By the way we have a very big rubbed duck charity race up here in Ketchum Idaho. Last year they raised over $ 50,000 for diabetes. Didn't know it was illegal.

As far as I know, it's not. To the best of my recollection, what they passed was a law making it illegal to award a prize larger than $1,000 in such a race.

* * * * *

This from Ken Scott [kscott@pcisys.net]: 

Regarding your discussion about the 340 MB ramdisk to run Windows from. Wouldn't a "good enough" solution be putting the swap file in the ram disk, and leave Windows where it is? Although, with that much RAM, I don't know how much Windows would be swapping. 

Anyway, I enjoy your daily journal, and good luck with your writing.

Ken Scott
kscott@pcisys.net

Well, in general it's a good idea to let the operating system handle resources itself, so I'd be inclined to just give Windows NT the memory and let it make the best use of it. In my own environment (clients and small servers), 128 MB is sufficient for NT to do next to no swapping, and with 256 MB I can go all day long with very little disk access, except when I do an explicit save or something similar. Thanks for the kind words.

 


 

 

 

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Friday, 2 July 1999

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Executive Software, the Diskeeper folks, are trumpeting the results of a recent study by NTSL that found that defragmenting a hard disk can provide significant performance increases. Given that Executive Software engaged NTSL to do the study, I'm sure some people will regard the results as biased. Be that as it may, my own experience is that defragging an NTFS volume can pay big performance dividends. 

When I first started with NT, I believed Microsoft's assertions that NTFS was not subject to fragmentation. I ran one NT box for more than a year without defragmenting it. I had a general impression that disk access had slowed down, but the process was so gradual that it was hard to say whether the disk was really slower or it was just my imagination. Then one day I happened across the free Diskeeper Lite product. I download it and ran it. It took forever to run because the disk display was pretty much the solid red used to flag fragmented files. After it completed, disk access seemed about twice as fast. 

I use Diskeeper on all my NT boxes, and recommend it to others. If you're running NT on a personal workstation, the free Diskeeper Lite is more than Good Enough. If you're running a server or need such things as scheduled defragmentation, the commercial version is worth paying for.

* * * * *

A big truck just showed up out front to deliver a mattress. I must say that $500 for a mattress seems expensive to me. It's much thicker than the old one. That'll take a little getting used to. But Barbara's happy, and that's what counts.

* * * * *

This from bdenman [bdenman@FTC-I.NET]: 

Morning! First; thank you for sharing your trials and tribulations of dog food and paint. <chuckle> Hope Kerry is doing okay now.

Second, I am not sure I experience the same behaviour as you are regarding IE5. You said "selecting a URL from a menu on the links bar opens that URL in the first instance of IE rather than the current active instance". I just now tried to duplicate this. My result was that I ended up with the URL in the current active instance not the first.

I had one IE browser window open (your Thursday notes). I opened another instance of IE from my desktop icon which went automatically to my home page URL. Once that completed loading I moused over to "Links >>" button (far right end of "Address line"), and clicked once it where it brought down a menu. I picked "free hotmail" and it started loading the Hotmail URL replacing my home page. The original IE5 window with your notes page was not touched. I repeated this test opening the second instance of IE by doing a CTL-N; same result.

I am running Win98SE (via SE Update cd). IE version is 5.00.2314.1003IC; which I do not think changed with the SE update.

I do get an occasional instability with IE. I will have an IE window go nutz and lock up. It will start flickering acting though its trying to refresh or something (seems to happen when trying to click on a link I think). Anyway I have to shut down that task via "close program box" (CTL-ALT-DEL). This has been going on for couple weeks. I had hoped the SE update would fix which it did not. It appears I need to do a complete reinstall.

Anyway; wondering if your experience with IE has anything to do with NT?

Regards

Bruce C. Denman
bdenman@ftc-i.net
http://web.infoave.net/~bdenman

Right. The problem does not occur in the situation you describe.

Here's what causes the problem reproducibly.

1. Make your Links bar a full bar by dragging it down below the address bar.

2. Rather than putting URLs directly on that bar, create folders to put the URLs into.

3. Open an instance of IE and display a page.

4. Open another instance (doesn't matter how -- via icon on desktop, Ctrl-N, etc.)

5. Click on a folder on the "menu bar" to display a drop-down list of the URLs it contains.

6. Click on one of those URLs.

7. IE leaves the current page displayed in the active instance and displays the new URL in the first instance of IE you opened.

I wanted to use a "menu" bar with tiered folders/files to make it easy to jump among web sites. That doesn't work. I can make it work by dragging the Links bar to make it so short that all that shows is the >> on the right of the address bar, but that means extra mouses clicks to get what I want. I settled on just making my own links page, which gets around that problem nicely.

* * * * *

This followup from bdenman [bdenman@FTC-I.NET]: 

Yep

I dragged links to new line; made folder and added to links line by dragging from desktop.

Then I added a url and it did what you said; same thing...went to first instance. I did not have a drop down menu though...just another pop up window so something not quite the same but I do see what you mean.

Later

Bruce C. Denman
bdenman@ftc-i.net
http://web.infoave.net/~bdenman

I guess it does it under Win98 as well. I thought it did, but I couldn't remember for sure so I didn't want to say it.

* * * * *

This from Dave Farquhar [farquhar@lcms.org]: 

Looks like Ken Scott brought up the classic RAM disk question. The idea is to leave enough memory free that the system will do little or no swapping (64 megs is usually sufficient under 9x--best way to find out is to keep a memory monitor going for a week or so and make note of your peak memory usage), then have the RAM disk store something speed-critical. Putting the swap file in the RAM disk doesn't accomplish anything useful--you're just running around in circles, using memory to simulate a disk drive, then turning around and using that simulated disk drive to simulate memory.

Keeping the Windows system in the RAM disk has some benefits. After all, just about every Windows application uses something or another in the Windows hierarchy. Having that instantly available increases system performance.

And, of course, when you have applications in the RAM disk, they load instantly.

The unfortunate thing is, this stuff all requires a whole bunch of juggling in MSDOS.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT, and won't work under NT. A few people developed non-volatile RAM disks in the late 1980s and early 1990s for computers like the Commodore 64/128 and Apple IIGS. You could put your graphical OS in these battery-backed RAM disks, and the computers would start almost instantly. A non-volatile PC RAM disk (say, a PCI card with a battery, the necessary support chips, and a bunch of DIMM sockets on it) would make things a lot easier, might allow NT to boot from it, and probably wouldn't cost a pile of money. I wonder if there are any hardware designers in your reader base who might want to take on something like this?

Dave Farquhar
Microcomputer Analyst, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod
farquhar@lcms.org

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

Good points. And although the "instant on" feature would be nice, I'd much rather have an "instant off" feature. My main workstation, kerby, takes literally 15 minutes to half an hour to shutdown. I know the problem--there's a service that's not terminating in a timely manner--but I sure can't fix it.

* * * * *

This from [CatCandi@aol.com]:

We use the Travan 8GB (TR-4) cartridges in our tape back up. I am looking for cleaning cartridges for this drive. Do you know where I can get them?

Thank you.

Sure. Just about any mail-order supplier should carry them, and you can probably even find them locally at a CompUSA or similar place. I found one at NECx here.

I've never much liked cleaning cartridges of any sort, and I don't use them in my Travan 8 drive. Instead, I vacuum it out every couple of months. Once a month or so, I use a cotton swab and rubbing alcohol to clean the heads and rollers gently.

Cleaning is particularly important with Travan drives. When I first got mine, I noticed that the manual said to clean it after every 10 hours of operation. I ignored that, of course, because I'd never done much cleaning of any removable media drives other than blowing out the dust occasionally. But after I used that drive for a while, I couldn't complete a backup without getting at least half a dozen errors. I finally cleaned the drive, and the errors went away.

* * * * *

This, regarding the Yahoo content grab, from Bo Leuf [bo@leuf.net]: 

Geez...

I just bumped into this myself, but thanks for your heads up via the wired article. I have three legacy sites at geocities, and suddenly I am closed off from all access, including removal of the site, unless I agree to their terms, including that rip-off copyright hand-over. 

Trying to contact Yahoo is even worse than Geocities had become. Nothing anywhere except forms that require your new "yahoo identity". I finally found a more open form inviting me to "share my experiences with Yahoo" and sent a demand to have the content removed.

--

"Bo Leuf" <bo@leuf.net>
Leuf Network, www.leuf.net

Yes. Yahoo now says they don't really mean it, but I don't see them changing their verbiage. It seems to me that the safe thing to do is abandon your GeoCities sites entirely. Of course, given their recent grab, Yahoo is likely to say that they own anything that's abandoned. But they can't have it all ways.

I have never much liked Yahoo. They are sloppy and unresponsive, among other things. More than a year ago, I noticed that they had another company named Triad Technology Group, this one an Oregon-based employment agency, pointing to my URL. I emailed them repeatedly, and never got so much as a reply. To this day, the pointer is still wrong. I have no use for Yahoo whatever.

* * * * *

This, regarding the IE font problem, from Bo Leuf [bo@leuf.net]: 

There are several obscure and hard-to-figure out couplings between settings in e.g. Outlook and IE5. The relative font-size issue may be related to this. Remember that IE has been moving in the direction of less being a stand-alone browser, and more and more the web-UI for the OS as a whole, and as such its components are used, and tweaked, by Office apps, Active Desktop, and what have you. 

/ Bo

--

"Bo Leuf" <bo@leuf.net>
Leuf Network, www.leuf.net

Sure, but that's not at issue here. Example: (1) no applications running. (2) Start IE5, and it comes up with Larger font. (3) Close IE5. (4) Start IE5, and it comes up with Larger font. (5) Close IE5. (6) Start IE5 and it comes up with Medium font. I mean this literally--no steps in between. And it's not reproducible. Sometimes it does it the first time it comes up, and sometimes it will come up with Larger several times before it changes its mind and goes to medium.

And that's not the only inconsistent thing. Literally 99% of the times I start IE5 by double-clicking the desktop icon, it comes up full screen, which is my preference. One time in 100, though, it comes up windowed. And there are many other similar problems, which I don't have the time to write about. IE5 simply does not behave reproducibly. That's odd for any piece of software.

 


 

 

 

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Saturday, 3 July 1999

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Not that much going on today. I pulled the Dell Dimension XPS m200s box off my desk to do some cleaning and upgrading. It's sitting on the kitchen table right now with the cover off, leaking dust dinosaurs. After we get it cleaning out (and perhaps replace the CD-ROM drive which is either dead or simply too dirty to read CDs), we're going to install the proprietary interface for my Plustek scanner. 

Incidentally, don't even think about buying a Plustek product. Not only do they not update drivers for recently discontinued models, they don't even provide updated drivers for current models. Shortly after I bought this Plustek Color 6000 scanner, I asked them when they'd ship a driver for NT4. They said they had no plans to do so. Their solution was that I should buy a new scanner. Which I may do, but certainly not from them. So, as far as that scanner is concerned, I'm limited to running it under Windows 95. 

I'm turning the Dell into a dedicated Windows 98 box. Perhaps the Plustek Windows 95 drivers will work with Windows 98. We'll see.

* * * * *

This from H [hstuck@excite.com]: 

This may simply be a windows behavior that has escaped my notice.

Sometimes new IE 5.0 windows are cascaded and sometimes they are not. Sometimes maximized, sometimes not.

If the last close was full screen, they seem to come up full screen. If the last close was regular window (non-maximized), the first one comes up same size/positon as the last close. The rest come up cascade at the moment.

Having said that, I've played around and seen it open new windows on top of old. In one case, this seems to have been triggered after making one regular IE 5.0 window a full screen (as opposed to maximized) window.

While writing this, I've seen new IE 5.0 windows be cascade windows, and then shift to non-cascade and shift back to cascade. And no, I've not asked IE or windows to cascade the windows. And I didn't catch what triggered the change in behavior.

IE 5.0 window states seem to be: full screen, maximized, regular, and minimized. Remembered stated seems to be what IE 5.0 remembers from most recent previously closed window. New IE 5.0 windows can be triggered by Ctrl-N, open link in new window, starting a new copy.

Theory of least surprises doesn't seem to be implemented.

I'd like to have precise control over how new IE 5.0 windows are opened, no matter how triggered and get: non-cascaded or cascaded or maximized or full screen. I've seen new IE 5.0 windows from maximized open in the same spot, be cascaded, or be maximized. Some may relate to the most recently closed state, but that doesn't explain all of it.

I'd like that too, but it doesn't look like it will happen any time soon. I had originally drawn some of the same conclusions as you have about window size and positioning, but they turn out not to be the case. IE5, for example, sometimes opens in a window rather than maximized even though it was last maximized, and even immediately after a reboot. I've resigned myself to the fact that IE does not behave consistently, and probably never will. I still use it, because with all its faults its still better than Opera and much better than Navigator.

 


 

 

 

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Sunday, 4 July 1999

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Independence Day (US)

Well, I'm now the proud owner of an HP 6200CXi scanner. After rebuilding the Dell box, installing Windows 98, and attempting to get the drivers for the damned Plustek scanner to load, I gave that up as a bad idea. I checked KillerApp.com to see what the best-selling scanner models were. HP headed the list, of course, but I was shocked to find just how inexpensive a decent flat-bed scanner is nowadays. The 6200 had everything I wanted, so I started checking prices. 

PC Connection was, as usual, high. They wanted $399 for it and said they could drop that only by $10 or so, even though numerous places on the web were selling that model for $350 or so. Even if I'd ordered it from them, I wouldn't have gotten it until Tuesday, so decided to check local prices. I called Computer & Software Outlet. They had it for $389, but were willing to drop that by $10. There was less than an hour until they closed, so Barbara and I headed over and bought a scanner.

It's set up on the kitchen table, where the Dell box is living temporarily. The 6200 has USB and SCSI interfaces, so I installed an Adaptec 2920 SCSI host adapter. I don't have an external cable handy (although I'm sure there are some in my cable boxes somewhere), so I decided to use USB. Everything works fine.

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The following exchange of email between Tom Syroid and me started when he asked me if I could send him a CD. I didn't know exactly what I had to do to make sure it got through customs, which started this exchange.

I'd appreciate it -- if you get it before me. Which I suspect you will as you're probably "higher" up the mailing list ladder than me <g>.

Stick it in snail mail -- works for me. You'll probably still have to fill out one of those silly green customs "thingies" that ask for the declared value (got to ensure the government gets its money from multiple sources now) and what it is; just put computer disk on it or some other such nonsense.

David wrote me later today. I guess he was training someone new today and was up to his armpits. Said he'd call Tuesday and we'd catch up.

I'm absolutely amazed at how fast this new chapter is coming together. Either I've learned something valuable in the last 6 weeks, or my perspective is totally different working on a chapter that's going to be 15 pages instead of 40 or 50.

Okay. Will do. I assume the post office will have the green customs thingee. Whatever happened to the North American Free Trade Agreement?

Glad your chapter's going well.

Don't even talk to me about NAFTA. It's a very sore point for me, especially when I have so many friend who live in the US. Despite our cozy relations and close borders I have to jump through enormous hoops to get from "here to there".

Yeah, your post office will have the "green thingees".

Frankly, I'm not sure why we have customs between our two countries. Perhaps it's naive of me, but I think goods should be completely free to move between Canada and the US without any government hindrance. It seems to me that I should be able to just drop something in the mail with your address on it (or vice versa) and have it delivered without further ado. I mean, the concept of countries is all well and good, I suppose, but it seems to me that they take themselves too seriously.

I concur. And that's what NAFTA was *supposed* to be all about. The *plan* was that in 5 years, all cross-border exchanges between our countries would be free and clear of all intervention.

However. Both our respective governments soon learned just how much money cross-border duties and inspections pumps into our economies and throttled back their plans -- dramatically. They now claim that their turn-around on this is about secure borders. But it's really about money. Surprise, right?

Borders are like guns. Laws will not keep them being used wisely. If I want to find a "clean" unregistered gun (even in Canada), this is not a difficult task if you know where to look or who to ask. If I want to send something across the border between our countries, and have no one know about it, this is not a difficult task either. I play the game because I have nothing to hide. But it is an irritating and inconvenient game indeed.

On the other hand, I have to say that if I were Canadian I'd be concerned about climbing into bed with the 900 pound gorilla. The logic of empire is that two exist, one wins, and that one proceeds to suck up everything it wants. I half-seriously suggested several years ago to a British friend that it was time for a rapprochement between mother country and colonies, and that England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales would make four good states. 

I could also see Canadian provinces becoming US states, perhaps not in our lifetime, but eventually. I could see, for example, violence or instability or a real independence movement breaking out in Quebec Province, and the US stepping in--with the best of intentions, of course--to stop it. But once empire arrives, it's not so easy to force it to depart. 

Canada is already in thrall to the US in many respects. You watch much of our television, read mostly our books, etc. Granted, the converse is also true, but that makes the danger all more real. So I'm not at all sure that eliminating barriers is really in Canada's long-term best interests.

Ah yes... you make good points here.

And just for the mull pot... I had a friend suggest to me long ago that we got it all wrong when we laid borders around North America; that in fact a more logical division would not be North and South, but East and West. When you think about, the thinking here is interesting. Most people, whether they live in Canada or the US, tend to think of themselves as "Easterners" or "Westerners". The cultures are radically different between the two (California, versus, say New York or Boston). I always thought this an wise bit of insight on his part. Although having said that, where to draw the line "up and down" would probably be good material for a civil war on both sides of our existing border.

We are definitely "Americanized" here in Canada. And if the fires were to be lit in Quebec, it would indeed present some interesting consequences. I have no doubt in my mind that there have already been secretive "closed door" talks about the possibility of Quebec becoming a state of the US should separation become a reality. And with their geographical position, this would no doubt cause further dominoes to topple (the Maritimes would effectively be cut off from the rest of Canada and at the whim of Quebec for passage anywhere).

I fully expect, before I die, to see two major changes regarding Canada's "place in the world".

One: If we are not indeed affiliated with the US in some way, shape, or form, then the border that separates us will be *much* more seamless that it is today. We've moved in this direction for 20 years now, and I don't see this trend reversing -- be it good, bad, or indifferent.

Two: I think we will all have a much different perspective on countries, nations, and borders. I don't think these institutions will disappear, but our thinking on them will be radically changed from what it is now. If we, as a planet, are to survive the 21st Century, I believe it is imperative that we begin to think now in terms of the "global community" rather than "us" and "them". This is already all too evident in the world of economics. That a monetary crisis in Thailand can cause the price of a loaf of bread to increase for me here in Canada should be argument enough to support "global" thinking.

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This from Judas [Judas@gbso.net]: 

Liked the web page. If you have time could you send me some information on basic phone tapping. Nothing illegal I would like to see if I could tap and record my own residential phone line. Also is there a way to use my personal pc to record the telephone conversations?

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks 

Judas@gbso.net 

Unfortunately, phone tapping isn't something one can explain briefly. A complete explanation would be book-length, and a partial one is fairly useless. You can certainly tap and record your own residential phone line, although doing so may be illegal. Some states require that only one party to the conversation be aware that the conversation is being recorded, while other states require that all parties be aware. The easiest way to record conversations is to use an inductive coupler to feed a tape recorder. If that recorder has a VOX (voice activation) setting, you can turn that on so that the recorder tapes only when there is activity on the line. For a more formal installation, you can install a high-impedance bridge across tip and ring on the CO line and feed the output to the recorder.

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This from Chuck Waggoner [waggoner@gis.net]: 

Can I interject on the tape drive discussion? As you know, I'm not an engineer, but have worked in broadcasting for many years. I just want to describe how the engineers I worked with treated tape and tape heads.

It is my understanding from those fellows (and a girl or two) that recording of digital information from computers requires the highest level of operational stability, video recording comes next, and audio last. Tape deck construction follows that order, and so does grading in the manufacture of the tape itself, prior to sale.

When I worked at public television in Chicago, both video and audio heads were cleaned before mounting EVERY tape. Granted, much of the work there was shown to very large audiences, so even the slightest dropout was a competitive concern, but part of the reason this procedure was observed was that tapes can become 'contaminated' with loose magnetic particles, and such cleaning keeps the contamination from being spread from tape to tape. During recording sessions, heads were cleaned--not only with every mounted tape,--but also before returning to work from breaks and lunch.

Audio recorders received the same attention; quite occasionally, we would pause during sessions for head cleaning, especially on the larger format multi-track machines.

What this all meant, was that the heads on most machines were cleaned multiple times during the day. Engineers there even cleaned heads on their personal Walkmans daily.

I, too, have found my audio tracks much cleaner sounding by stepping up my own head cleaning to once a week (I audition about an hour's worth of audio cassette material every day). My computer has a Colorado QIC-80 backup deck, and I also clean that once a week before the major Friday backup, and before formatting any tape. Seldom is there a problem, but when there is, another head cleaning usually fixes it.

As for tape itself, older tape was never recycled for new use; it was thrown away, and new stock was employed for every new project.

Here's another tip I got from those engineers. Before viewing any video cassettes in your home VCR (especially tapes rented from the video store), fast-forward them all the way to the end and rewind back again. This improves tension, and winds the tape with better alignment for the machine it is about to be played on. Before we began recording sessions, tapes were always fast forwarded to the end, and then rewound to get that proper alignment and tension. Then, instead of starting play at the beginning of the tape, fast forward a little to avoid the 'raggedness' that is almost always present at the beginning and end of videocassettes. Since I started doing that about 10 years ago with rented tapes, I seldom have problems with tracking or the occasional 'zinging' of creased tape digging into the heads.

Most people have been convinced that winding and rewinding tapes in their home machines is somehow damaging to them--some people even buy outboard 'rewinders' in an effort to eliminate fast winding on their VCR's. But I'm told this doesn't give the proper wind and tension for playing in the machine. What I've been told is that winding motors in the VCR have been designed specifically to wind and rewind tapes and are quite capable of doing that. And it's cheaper to replace one of those motors than to replace a damaged video head. In my 10+ years of doing this, I've never once had to replace the motors used for fast winding on any machine I've had.

Regarding Quicken99, I recently bought Intuit's Quicken Home and Business99 (which is built on top of Quicken99), in an attempt to get away from obvious bugs in Quicken v.6. What I can relate, is that bugs are still there, although they no longer crash the program as in v.6.

But the BIG problem is that registration of the product is mandatory. There is no mention of this on or in the box, nor is it mentioned during installation. After upgrading my old Quicken files to the new format, and having used the product for a couple weeks, it then began a countdown to 'required registration'.

Sure enough, when I reached that point, the program quit working. 

When I registered, I was given a number, which I was told would work ONLY with this particular installation. If ever I needed to install again, I would have to call in again to get another, different number to activate it. 

Considering the facts: that there was no advance warning that registration would be mandatory before converting my files; that I don't believe Quicken99 is yet the equal of the last DOS version of their product; that it still exhibits bugs; that there has been practically no development of the program since v.6 that I consider useful to me; and that I can't return to my older version of Quicken without a lot of importing/exporting hassle--I'm sorry I bought the new version.

--Chuck Waggoner [waggoner@gis.net]

I know what you say is true, because I've encountered it myself. Fifteen years ago, my brother was Technical Director at a local television station. They, of course, used mostly the big reel-to-reel VTR machines, as well as cartridge loaders for promos, PSAs, etc. But they also had several high-end Beta and VHS VCR's. While I was visiting the station one time, I happened to mention to Bill that I needed to buy some VCR tapes. He said not to bother, because I could have as many as I wanted for free. He took me to a closet where they had probably several hundred top-quality VCR tapes sitting in racks. I felt funny about accepting any, but he said that they used them once and then retired them to this closet where any employee was welcome to take as many as he wanted. They also followed a head cleaning regimen much like that you describe.

I suspect the reason so many of us are able to treat head cleaning so casually is that video recording is analog, with no error correction, while computer recording is digital, with ECC out the wazoo. Still, you've convinced me, and I plan to start cleaning my tape drive heads much more frequently.

As far as Quicken 99, I'm sorry to hear about your problems, but I can't say they surprise me. Intuit has long been one of my least favorite companies. In addition to obnoxious attempts to force registration, they also force you to look at ads when you use products that you've bought and paid for. Barbara uses Quicken to manage our checkbook, but I hate it. I tried at one point to convince her to switch to Microsoft Money, but she's happy with Quicken. 

 

 

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