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Week of 18 June 2001

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Monday, 18 June 2001

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Interesting day yesterday. It started with me doing the laundry, as usual. When I went downstairs to put the dark load in the washer and the white load in the drier, I found that that white load was still sopping wet. Apparently the spin cycle hadn't completed. So I turned the dial back to spin and the washer just sat there making "I think I can" noises. But no spinning. So I reached in and tried to turn the agitator manually. It would turn about ten degrees in each direction and then lock up tight. I figured a bearing had bound up or something.

Barbara and I were already planning to head over to her sister's house for Fathers' Day dinner, so Barbara called Frances and asked if we could bring our laundry over and do it there. No problem, she said. So about 3:00 we loaded up all the food and stuff in the back of Barbara's truck, along with four loads of laundry. We planned to stop at Sears on the way and buy a new washer.

The white load was still in the washer at that point, but when I removed it to carry over to Frances' house, I found the agitator would now turn freely. Hmmm. Perhaps it wasn't a bearing after all. So we tried re-running the rinse/spin cycle on the white load, which completed fine. Obviously, there had been something jamming the agitator. So we pulled all the laundry out of Barbara's truck, and put the dark load in to wash while we were gone.

While we were over at Barbara's sister's house, I kept looking at the sky. There were a few clouds, but the southern horizon was clear. About 7:30 I mentioned to Barbara that we'd better get going if we were going to go up to Bullington that night. I did so half-jokingly, in the way a man does when he's serious but wants to pretend he's not. (No loss of face that way, you see, when his wife stomps all over his idea, because he was only kidding to begin with). We finally left for home about 8:00, and Barbara said that she'd had a long day and that she was really too tired to go up to Bullington.

We got home about 8:15 and found a message on the answering machine from Bonnie Richardson, saying that she was leaving for church around 7:00 but planned to head up to Bullington afterwards and would be there about 9:30. I didn't say anything, but Barbara talked herself into going up, although she did mention that that'd mean she'd get to sleep in and I'd have to out the dogs in the morning. Fair enough. We put the dark load in the drier, got my mom settled in, walked the dogs, got everything ready, and left the garage at 9:07 to head for Bullington. 

We got up there about 9:40. No Bonnie. Barbara thought perhaps she'd changed her mind about coming because she hadn't heard from us. Bullington is pretty isolated. We've never had any trouble there, but it's not a place I'd care to be on my own if I were a woman. But, sure enough, Bonnie showed up a few minutes later. Mars was already up, although it looked bright white instead of red. We all got set up and sat around talking while we waited for Mars to clear the muck. It kept getting higher, but the seeing was not great and Mars never did appear as anything but a blobby white ball. We did spot some surface detail at one point, but not enough to be able to even tell what we were looking at.

So Bonnie announced that she wanted to find some Messier Objects. That was about 10:30, and for the next 2.5 hours we all alternated between binoculars, star charts, and scopes to find, view, and log Messier Objects and other deep-space faint fuzzies. Many of them are actually easier to find in binoculars than in the scopes. I got the first one in the scope, M57 in Lyra, which is the Ring Nebulae. Sure enough, there it was, a faint ring that looks pretty much like a smoke ring. From there, we started finding and viewing objects all over the place, including a bunch in Sagittarius, which Barbara and Bonnie insist on calling the "Teapot". As a matter of fact, they were both singing the "I'm a Little Teapot" song at one point, complete with gestures. It would have been embarrassing if anyone had happened by. But, at any rate, we found and viewed a score or more of deep-space objects, including a dozen or so Messiers, several NGC's and a Trumpler. 

And I was the first to spot a satellite. It was only one of several, granted, and Barbara and Bonnie were first to spot all the others, but I was first to spot one of my own.

Off to work on the book...

Several people have expressed curiosity about what my page looks like with SmartTags, so here's an example. Be warned that it's a 1024X768 image and a 227 KB download.

smarttags.jpg (230806 bytes)

Thanks to reader Mike Strock, who sent me this image.

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Tuesday, 19 June 2001

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The dogs let us sleep in until 8:00 this morning, which is nothing short of amazing. Actually, Malcolm is better about that than Duncan. Malcolm will happily curl up on the end of the bed and wait for us to wake up. Of course, he'll only wait so long. When he decides that it really is time for us to wake up, he'll come over and wake us by licking our faces, which isn't too bad. Unless, of course, I happen to be sleeping with my mouth open.

Speaking of SmartTags, Roland Dobbins sends me the following two links, with the subject line "Sensible commentary on 'smart tags' and an example content license." http://librenix.com/?inode=1001 and http://librenix.com/?inode=1000. One of the pages includes a link to a Wall Street Journal article. I'm not going to worry too much about SmartTags. If Microsoft starts putting their own links in content owned by companies like The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, they're going to find their hands quickly full defending copyright violation suits. Big companies aren't going to put up with having their content modified.

And Roland also sends this link, which is an interesting guide to securing Windows 2000 published by the National Security Agency (NSA).

Things will be a little sparse around here for the next couple of weeks at least. I have half a dozen chapters in progress and want to get all of them finished and in to O'Reilly. So I won't necessarily be posting here every day, and even days when I do post may be short shrift. I'll keep an eye on the messageboards, particularly the subscriber areas, but that'll be about it for a while.

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Wednesday, 20 June 2001

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My to-do list is getting out of control again. I have five chapters open as I write this, with several more in bits and pieces. I have three systems that I need to build right now for the book, including photographing and documenting the process. My main tape drive is now spitting out tapes as soon as I insert them, which means that I don't have a tape backup less than a week old. Cleaning the drive would probably solve the problem, but I have no idea where my cleaning tapes have gotten to. Barbara points out that I have yet to connect her scanner and inkjet printer. I have a stack of motherboards and other stuff that I need to evaluate. Every time I mark one thing done, I see that two others have appeared as to-do's. I guess I'll just keep plugging.

 

 

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Thursday, 21 June 2001

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Yesterday I finished updating Chapter 15, Video Adapters and sent it off to my editor. It's available for download on the Subscribers Page now (584 KB Word 2000 document). If you care to read and comment on it, I'd love to hear what you have to say. There is a link on the subscribers' page that you can click to provide feedback in the Subscribers Only forum on the HardwareGuys.com messageboard. I'm working now on several other chapters, which should be up within the next several days.

If you're not a subscriber and want to become one, click here.

And now Bill Gates chimes in on the horrors of GPL. Mr. Gates equates the GPL to PacMan, gobbling everything in its path. This would all be funny were it not so dangerous. As I said three years ago, Open Source software in general and Linux in particular is a deadly threat to Microsoft. Seeing that the Big Lie worked pretty well for Hitler and Stalin, Gates has decided to roll out a Big Lie campaign to discredit Open Source software in general and Linux in particular. If you repeat the Big Lie often enough, some people start to believe it. Keep at it, and pretty soon the Big Lie becomes common wisdom. Everyone knows it must be true--they've heard it so often--so no one questions it. 

If you can't fight fair--and Microsoft can't because they have nothing to fight with--the only solution is to fight dirty, and that's exactly what Microsoft is doing. Their target isn't the techies. We all know that Microsoft is raising on a busted flush. Their target is the pointy-haired bosses, who don't understand technology (or much of anything else, come to that) but who ultimately make the decisions. Microsoft's goal is to convince these executive drones that installing Linux is dangerous because doing so risks putting all of the company's intellectual property into the public domain (Microsoft isn't very good at differentiating between GPL and PD). That's ridiculous, of course, but if Microsoft can succeed at implanting FUD about Linux in executive decision makers, they'll have accomplished their goal.

I find all of this unutterably disgusting, albeit predictable. Open Source software will be the death of Microsoft, and Microsoft is fully aware of that. Microsoft learned their lesson with the antitrust trial. Their failure to wallpaper Washington with Microsoft lobbyists and to buy some congressmen cost them big time, and they won't make that mistake again. The Big Lie campaign is just the first phase of Microsoft's effort to surround and destroy Open Source. The next phase will be Microsoft's attempt to legislate Open Source out of existence. I have no doubt that Microsoft's lobbyists and client congressmen are burning the midnight oil to develop and pass laws that will cripple Open Source. Bet on it.

NASA is accepting names to be put on a CD (not a DVD?) that will make the trip to Mars on the Rover-2003 mission. Click on http://spacekids.hq.nasa.gov/2003/ to put your name on the CD.

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Friday, 22 June 2001

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I got an interesting email this morning. I've been through all of this before on these pages, but it bears repeating:

Hi Robert and Barbara! 

I'm a member of the Dallas Fort Worth Unix (and GNU-Linux) Users Group. A newbie to PC hardware, I volunteered to read PC Hardware in a Nutshell and to write a review for our newsletter.

I read every word in the book, and understood about 98%. I then dismantled and reassembled my clone PCs with no problem and tackled several upgrading projects with good success. So I'm going to give you a strong report.

I would like to know more about your code of ethics. I read your no-ads, no payola statement on the web site. Also, the high quality of your book suggests integrity (in addition to a good editor). But even the people who review restaurants for the newspaper have a code. So I want to know more. Do you get free stuff from Seagate to tryout? Do you own stock in Intel? Is Robert's brother national sales manager for Hitachi? Is there anybody in position to audit and verify your independence? I urge you to announce a detailed code and stress it on the first page of your web site and next edition of the book. If you establish your independence, this may do as much to build your following as mere brilliant writing.

In my review, I will accuse you of being Wintel serfs! I understand why this was necessary to develop a PC guru practice over the last 20 years in sleepy Winston Salem. (I grew up in dynamic Charlotte.) And you state your Wintel background fairly in the book. But this is not the future of computing. Free software and new breakthroughs in hardware (Nvidia Crush! ) is the future. But even if I'm hyperventilating, this is for sure the territory of much of the O'Reilly readership.

I challenge you in the next edition to add in every segment of every chapter the relevant considerations at least for GNU-Linux. And how about Solaris 8 and other Unix-like OSs that run on PCs? This is not your area of experience; so maybe you can add a third author (O'Reilly can recommend one for sure) to your next edition to cover GNU-Linux and Unix. If you can pull this off, you will have a unique book that would be irresistible to the members of DFWUUG.

Thanks again for your great first edition of PC Hardware in a Nutshell !

Hank McFadyen in Dallas, TX

Thanks for the kind words.

> Do you get free stuff from Seagate to tryout?

Yep. But then we also get free stuff from competing manufacturers as well. Some has to go back and some the manufacturers don't expect back. Some we use until it drops, some we donate to non-profits when we're done with it, and some we just discard when we're done with it because the maker's don't want it donated. A lot of stuff we buy just like anyone else has to. It's all immaterial as far as our recommendations anyway. As I've said on my journal page, if a guy has one computer or one hard drive and needs/wants another one, a free computer or a free hard drive might be a good bribe. But when a guy has 30 computers or 50 hard drives, still one more isn't a bribe, it's a burden. And we're as likely to recommend the product we had to buy as the one we got an eval sample of. For example, I think you'd agree that we gave Matrox video cards a pretty strong plug despite the fact that we had to buy all but one of the seven or eight Matrox cards we have, whereas we have stacks of video cards that other manufacturers sent us for free. And, of course, buying stuff isn't an option in many cases, because manufacturers send us products long before they're available on the market.

> Do you own stock in Intel?

No. We don't own any stock in high-tech industries.

> Is Robert's brother national sales manager for Hitachi?

Nope. We have no relatives or friends working for any technology manufacturers. We buy our Hitachi monitors just like anyone else.

> Is there anybody in position to audit and verify your independence?

No, but anyone who reads our book should be able to tell simply by reading it that we're not in anyone's pocket. For example, we say that we wouldn't use anything but Adaptec SCSI host adapters. Okay, someone who didn't know anything about Adaptec and SCSI host adapters might wonder about that strong plug (anyone who does know SCSI would agree with us). But then we turn around and say that Adaptec Easy CD Creator is the worst piece of software ever foisted on the public and that you should use Nero Burning ROM instead. That should make it clear that we aren't in Adaptec's pocket.

As far as Linux, we hope that it drives Microsoft into bankruptcy. We've discussed adding Linux coverage to the book, but there are two problems with that:

(a) page count is budgeted carefully, and we have to write about what our target market wants to read about. The unhappy truth of the matter is that the great majority of computer users who are likely to be building or upgrading PCs are running Windows, so that is what we must focus on. Scott Mueller tried doing a "Linux Edition" of his Upgrading and Repairing PCs, and it sank without a trace.

(b) Linux is not monolithic like Windows. There are many different distributions, and many versions of each distribution, and the details vary greatly from one to another. Configuration files have different names and are located in different directories. There are kernel and library dependencies. And so on. Telling someone how to do something under Windows is pretty straightforward. If they're running Windows 9X, they have to do this. If they're running Windows NT/2000, they have to do that. With Linux, it often depends on whether they're running Mandrake versus Red Hat versus Debian, or whether they're running the 2.4 kernel or an earlier one, etc. etc.

To get an idea of the problem we face incorporating Linux coverage, consider how you'd answer the following two questions: "How do I configure a video card in Windows?" versus "How do I configure a video card in Linux?"

Yesterday I finished updating Chapter 16, Monitors and sent it off to my editor. It's available for download on the Subscribers Page now (117 KB Word 2000 document). If you care to read and comment on it, I'd love to hear what you have to say. There is a link on the subscribers' page that you can click to provide feedback in the Subscribers Only forum on the HardwareGuys.com messageboard. I'm working now on several other chapters, which should be up within the next several days.

If you're not a subscriber and want to become one, click here.

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Saturday, 23 June 2001

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Hmmm. Outlook keeps telling me that it's time to do a tape backup, but the Travan NS20 tape drive in the main server spits out a tape as soon as I insert it. I have other tape drives lying around here, ranging in capacity from 8 GB to 50 GB, but none are installed in computers. I suppose I should get off my butt and install at least one of them, but between doing xcopy backups to other machines on the network and doing backups to CD-R I feel reasonably well protected. I suppose I should just install an Adaptec SCSI host adapter and a DDS-3 tape drive in my main system and have done with it, but I'm not feeling ambitious today. In fact, I think I'll take some down-time and just read a book or two.

On the other hand, I don't have a recent tape backup and that makes me nervous. Perhaps I should just pop the lid on my main system and stick in an Adaptec 2930 host adapter and a Tecmar DDS-3 tape drive. Easier still, perhaps I'll stick an OnStream DI-30 in there, which saves the hassle of installing a SCSI card. Of course, when I open the case it's going to need cleaned...

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Sunday, 24 June 2001

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Ugh. What a mess. I decided to install the OnStream DI-30 ATAPI tape drive in my main system. That took 10 or 15 minutes from start to finish, including sucking out the dust bunnies. I restarted the system and everything came up fine. Windows 2000 told me that new hardware had been found, and the problems started.

To begin with, I'd decided to use Windows 2000 Backup instead of the Echo Backup software that is bundled with the drive. Although OnStream has an Echo version that supports Windows 2000, I'd had enough problems with Echo under Windows 2000 in the past that I decided just to run W2K Backup, which is a lobotomized version of Arcada/Seagate/Veritas BackupExec. I remembered that using W2K Backup required a driver, so I went off to the OnStream web site to check for that driver. As it turned out, I already had the latest W2K drivers (I downloaded everything in sight back in March when OnStream declared bankruptcy).

So I pointed the New Hardware Wizard at the OnStream subfolder in my distribution folder. There were two sets of W2K drivers there, "SC" drivers and "ADR" drivers. I "knew" it couldn't be the SC drivers--those are for SCSI drives--so I told the New Hardware Wizard to use the drivers in the ADR folder. It refused to accept them. I tried a couple more times, but the drive wasn't recognized. So it looked as though I had no choice but to use the Echo software, which has its own drivers. I didn't want to do that, both because of the previous problems I'd had with Echo under W2K and because Echo creates a virtual drive and assigns it a letter. Software that creates virtual drives, including Echo and DirectCD, has been the cause of many problems. But it seemed as though there was no choice.

So I verified that the version of Echo I had in my distribution folder was the latest available. It was, so I started the installation. That appeared to progress normally until I restarted the system at the completion of Setup. When my desktop re-appeared, nearly all my icons had been changed to generic icons. Okay, that's easy enough to fix. Go to Display Properties, change one thing, accept the change, and then change it back. That worked fine, and all my icons appeared normally.

Before I started the backup, I wanted to check my email and do a couple of other things. So I fired up Outlook and clicked on the Send/Receive button. Outlook locked up. Not good. It never does that. So I fired up Task Manager, killed the application, and fired up Outlook again. This time it worked normally. Okay, perhaps that was a momentary aberration. So I started the backup, which totaled about 23 GB. That ran at about 4 GB/hour for the next six hours or so, followed by the verify, which ran a bit faster. After several hours, I had a complete verified backup. So far, so good.

So I stored the tape and fired up Outlook to check my mail. No problem. I then fired up IE and started browsing web sites. At one point, I clicked a link and my system blackscreened on me and the BIOS setup screen appeared as it started rebooting. Not good. Installing Echo had obviously made my system very unstable. But there's a resident program called Echo Express that starts when the system starts, so I thought perhaps disabling that would clear the instability problem. I did that and browsed some more, only to have another spontaneous blackscreen/reboot. Very not good. So I uninstalled Echo, eradicated every bit of it from my hard drive, and restarted. After browsing for an hour or so with no spontaneous reboots, I concluded that Echo had been the problem (or perhaps Echo in combination with the resident processes that Norton Internet Security runs).

That left me with an obvious problem. A tape drive with no backup software installed and a backup tape that I could no longer read. So I decided to visit the OnStream site to see what I could find out. Silly me. In reading the installation instructions for the Windows 2000 drivers, I noticed that the ADR driver was the wrong one. I should have used the SC driver for the DI-30. So I installed the SC driver and restarted the system. The drive was recognized and the Property sheet said it was operating properly. Now to get the drive working with Windows 2000 Backup.

The OnStream instructions were quite specific on that point. They emphasized that every step must be followed EXACTLY. The only problem with that was that one of the steps said to insert a new, unused backup tape into the drive, and I didn't have a new, unused backup tape. So, with my fingers crossed, I inserted an old, used backup tape instead. Fortunately, everything seemed to work properly, and I was soon able to start a full system backup. It ran to completion overnight, including a verify, and everything seems to be fine.

But now I remember why I had the main tape drive on the server rather than on my workstation. With the tape drive on the server, I could continue working on my system while the backup ran. With the tape drive on my workstation, I can't do a thing during the several hours it takes to run the backup. Fortunately, the OnStream drive is extremely quiet. So much so that it's hard to tell when it's running. So from now on, I'll just set the backup running when we go to bed and let it run overnight.

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