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Week of 7 May 2001

Latest Update: Friday, 05 July 2002 09:16

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Monday, 7 May 2001

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Today I go into heads-down crunch mode to get the next edition of PC Hardware in a Nutshell cranked out. It'll be a death march from now until the end of June or mid-July, with the craziness gradually tapering off thereafter. That means the posts here will be short and sporadic. I may not even post every day. I have a dozen or so chapters in progress right now, in varying states of completion, and I want to get some of those into finished form and off to O'Reilly. As I crank them out, I will be posting draft versions of the updated chapters to the subscriber area.

That also means I'll be very slow to respond to email, if indeed I have time to respond at all. And even those messages I do respond to will likely get a rather short response. The exception to all that, of course, is mail from subscribers sent to the priority email address. I normally leave my email client open all the time, but now I'll intentionally open it only when I'm intending to check email. So, it'll get loaded first thing in the morning, and then perhaps a time or two throughout the day. I'll also unsubscribe to many mailing lists I currently belong to, which should cut my message traffic down by 200 or 300 messages/day right there.

Similarly, I'll be cutting back on the number of other web sites I visit each day and how long I spend reading them. It'll be down to a few of the Daynotes sites, a computer news site or two, and that's about it. Same thing for the messageboards, where I've been spending a lot of time and effort. For the next couple months, I'll be doing a quick check maybe once a day, rather than spending 15 minutes or half an hour several times a day reading and responding to messages. And again, that goes for everything except the subscriber area, so if you're a subscriber and need to post a message, please do so in the subscribers area so I'll be sure to see it. If you want both my attention and that of other readers, feel free to post both in the subscribers forum and the appropriate public forum, although I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know that you've done that so that I don't waste time responding to a post that's already been answered correctly.

Again, if you need me urgently, please send email to the subscriber priority email address, which will get my attention as soon as possible.

As I said, it's a death march. Thanks for understanding.

The second edition draft manuscript of Chapter 06, Floppy Disk Drives, is now available on the subscribers' page for download and review by any subscriber who wishes to do so. It's a Word 2000 document of about 2 MB. If you care to read and comment on it, I'd love to hear what you have to say. There's a link on the subscribers' page that you can click to provide feedback in the Subscribers Only forum on the messageboard.

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Tuesday, 8 May 2001

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I must be getting older. There was a time, not all that long ago, when I could sit down at my computer at 7:00 a.m. and write straight through with only short breaks for bathroom, grabbing a bite to eat, etc. until 11:00 p.m. Sixteen hours, more or less, of which probably 14 hours or more was spent writing. And I mean writing productively, turning out usable text over the whole period. Then I could go to bed, get up, and do it again the next day. If necessary, I could do that for days and even weeks on end, with only perhaps a partial day off now and then for a break. In my all-time record such day, I wrote 10,002 paid-for words.

Nowadays, about the best I can do is eight straight hours, and perhaps a total of 10 writing hours in a day. Anything more than that is simply not productive. I can sit there in front of the screen and I can press keys, but I don't end up with any more usable output after 16 hours than I had after 10 hours. Oh, I can write stuff like this--that's what I'm doing now on Monday evening after an 8+ hour day, but I can't write stuff that's good enough for publication. So at this point, I plan to work from about 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. with an hour or so off during the day for a break, and maybe put in another hour or two evenings. The bad news is that that limits me to about eight or 10 productive hours a day. The good news is that I can at least keep up that schedule for my usual seven days a week.

I don't know how Pournelle does it. He's old enough to be my father, and I suspect that when he's working heads-down he operates on a similar schedule. Perhaps it's all those pills he takes?

Subscriber Chris Madsen posted the following message yesterday to the Subscribers Only forum on the messageboard. This may be good news for fans of the late, lamented OnStream series of tape drives:

To quote from

OnStream Data B.V. is a new company, founded at May 1, 2001, which has acquired the Intellectual Property and other assets from OnStream Inc. This company went out of business on March 16, 2001. OnStream Data has its headquarters in The Netherlands. Sales for Europe and Asia will be directed from Eindhoven, The Netherlands, sales for North America will be performed through an OnStream Data subsidiary, which will be established in Austin TX. The products of OnStream Data are sold under the OnStream brand name. A sister company, OnStream MST is manufacturing the state of the art thin film heads which are used in the ADR tape drives manufactured by OnStream Data.

So maybe there's hope for them yet. I hope so; I've got a SC50 and I'm happy with it.

I appreciate the heads-up. It's very timely, because I hope to complete the revised version of the Tape Drives chapter later this week, and I've always liked the OnStream line of tape drives. It looks like they may be back.

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Wednesday, 9 May 2001

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Thanks to everyone who's subscribed to the site. I think I'm caught up with all subscriptions, so if you've subscribed and haven't heard from me, please let me know. Also, there are a half dozen or so subscribers from whom I haven't yet received payment. If you've subscribed and haven't yet gotten around to sending the check or doing the PayPal transfer, I'd appreciate it if you'd do so. If you haven't subscribed and want to do so, see this page.

There's another virus/worm making its way around the Internet today. It's much like the recent Anna Kournikova email worm, but this one has the subject line "Homepage" and the message body, "Hi! You've got to see this page! It's really cool ;O)". If you click on the attachment, which is actually named "homepage.HTML.vbs" but appears in many email clients without the ".vbs" visible, your machine becomes infected. 

If, that is, you haven't taken steps to prevent that from happening. On my machines, I could click away until doomsday without ever becoming infected, because I lock up Outlook tight, have IE configured to disallow doing much more than displaying HTML pages, and have physically removed the Windows Scripting Host from the systems. Any macro virus that arrived on one of my systems would starve to death.

Depending on your OS version, removing WSH may be a simple matter of uninstalling it from Control Panel, or it may require manually deleting the vscript.exe and cscript.exe executables from your system32 folder. (Note that if you're running Windows 2000, simply deleting the executables from system32 won't help. Windows puts them back automatically. You must first delete them from the dllcache folder and then delete them from system32.)

On the floor of my office, under the bottom shelf in my wall of bookshelves, I keep a row of those plastic milk jug crates, filled with cables and such. This morning, as I was doing my morning web site check, Malcolm walked into my office (we've taken down most of the baby gates and given him access to most of the house). I didn't think much about that until I heard a trickling sound. I whipped around and, sure enough, Malcolm was standing there with his leg lifted, micturating on one of my crates. 

"Malcolm!!!!!" I screamed. He calmly turned to me and gave me one of those "Who, me?" looks. I grabbed him by the collar, shouting "No!!! Bad Dog!!!" and dragged him out of the room. Barbara came running down the hall and we looked to see how bad it was. At first, we saw only a couple of drops on the hardwood floor, but I knew those weren't enough to account for the trickling sound I'd heard earlier. The crate he'd targeted was full of cables, and when we looked, sure enough, the cables were drenched.

So we took the crate and contents to the kitchen, tossed all the cables in the sink and started hosing them down with the sink sprayer. Our kitchen counters are now covered with towels to soak up the water dripping from the dozen or more cables spread out to dry. I am so glad we have hardwood floors.

Barbara, of course, took the opportunity to point out that that's the behavior one has to expect from an intact male. But I'm an intact male, and I don't go around pissing on other people's stuff.

There should be another chapter up in the subscribers area tomorrow, or perhaps Friday if things don't go as quickly as I hope.

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Thursday, 10 May 2001

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It's official. Microsoft has announced that Windows XP will ship Thursday, 25 October, 2001. Of course, it almost certainly won't actually be finished by then, but that's never stopped Microsoft from shipping a product. According to Microsoft, uptake will be faster than for any other operating system they've ever shipped. I doubt it. In fact, I expect Windows XP to be a flop. 

Certainly many new computers will ship with Windows XP installed, but what really counts is how many systems are upgraded to XP from earlier versions. And I expect that number to be pathetically low, even lower than Windows 2000 managed. Of course, all we're talking about here is the client version, because not even Microsoft is insane enough to think they can ship an even remotely acceptable version of Windows XP Server (AKA Windows 2002) in this timeframe. And by the time Windows XP Server ships, Linux will have achieved even greater penetration in server-space. So, as usual, Microsoft will be making a big deal about OS shipments bundled with new PCs, ignoring the fact that very few people have actually voluntarily paid cash money for their new product. Windows XP is going to be a flop of epic proportions. Bet on it. You read it here first.

Tom Syroid keeps saying on his page that "the answer is 43." So I mailed him last night, saying:

Are you sure it isn't 142,857?

Other than being a prime and one or two other interesting things, 43 is a pretty boring number. 142,857, on the other hand, is one of the most interesting numbers there is.

As it is. The next one like it is quite a bit longer and begins, as I recall, with zero. But 142,857 is so symmetric. It's the repeating series of six numbers that results from dividing one by seven, and seven is itself a magical number. 14.something (I'll leave it to you to figure out the something) times two is 28.something. 28.something times two is 57 (or thereabouts). The fascinating thing about 142,857 is what happens when you multiply it by various integers. Using an integer less than seven makes the interesting part obvious. Using an integer greater than seven makes it less so, particularly if you choose a large integer. But even with large integers the pattern holds up, although it becomes much more difficult to see as the number of digits in the product increases.

My friend Brian Bilbrey called me yesterday morning to get advice about components for a new system he was building. We talked a little while, hung up, and I thought nothing more about it. Last night, Marcia Bilbrey called Barbara to talk about girl stuff. When they finished talking, Barbara passed the phone to me and Marcia passed the phone to Brian. Brian told me his new computer was assembled and working. It had taken him only a few minutes to go from a stack of boxes to a functioning computer.

People sometimes ask me how long it usually takes me to build a new computer from components. I always lie, telling them it takes a half hour or so if I don't have any problems, and perhaps an hour if I do. Well, that's what it would take if I were just building a computer when I build a computer. But I'm not. I'm taking pictures, swapping components in and out (having a naked lab rat is an opportunity to test stuff from that teetering pile of components awaiting trial), etc. etc. So the real answer is that it usually takes me anything from a week to several weeks to build a new computer, but I could do it faster if my life depended on it. I actually did time myself once, just to see how long it really took. From a stack of boxes, it took me 17 minutes from start to finish, defining "finish" as a running computer ready to have the OS installed. Of course, the floor immediately surrounding my work area was not a pretty sight. But then neither is the floor of my office.

At any rate, Brian is pleased with his new machine, which is built around an Antec KS-288 mini/midtower case, Intel D815EEA2 motherboard, and Pentium III/933 processor. He maxed out the memory at 512 MB (the 815 chipset doesn't support any more) because memory is so cheap right now it doesn't make sense not to fill up the board.

Marcia, of course, blamed me for telling Brian to go buy all this stuff, a responsibility which I happily accepted. It's a guy thing. When a friend's wife blames me for something her husband did, I always accept the responsibility, secure in the knowledge that he'll do the same for me some day. That's probably why many wives look askance at their husbands' friends.

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Friday, 11 May 2001

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Ah, now Microsoft's cunning plan begins to become clear. They're going to use the carrot and stick method, with a tiny little carrot and a big huge stick. Microsoft is introducing new licensing plans designed to twist the arms of corporate buyers, who likely otherwise wouldn't upgrade to Windows XP or even to Windows 2000. The Register has the stories, here and here

NT 4 has disappeared from the Microsoft radar. Of course it has. NT 4 is not an OS that Microsoft wants you running. If I were those corporate buyers, I'd cling with a death grip to Windows NT 4 Workstation SP6a on my desktops and Windows 2000 Professional on my notebooks. As far as servers, I'd stick with Windows NT Server 4 until I could deploy Linux servers, and I'd spend some money hiring in some Linux folks to get that deployment rolling. Otherwise, I might just as well give Microsoft the unlimited authority to draft my bank account.

And this from Jonathan Sturm, who notes, "Better not show this one to Malcolm".

pic23281.jpg (88390 bytes)

More interesting spam yesterday, if there can be said to be such a thing. This one is trying to get people to visit a web site that sells "natural drugs." I quote it in full below, with headers:

Return-Path: <>
Received: (qmail 17875 invoked from network); 10 May 2001 18:46:47 -0000
Received: from (HELO (
by with SMTP; 10 May 2001 18:46:47 -0000
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: multipart/mixed;
X-Mailer: BD9ACCF.219839C2.86423960b58e2643d4ca12eb9a69782b
Subject: A real threat.
Organization: none

Dear Hans

As you know, has been up for only a fews weeks and so far they have gotten over several thousand hits. Not only are they taking away our chemists, as well as rewarding them highly for it, but they are manufacturing their products for a substantially lesser price than ours.We must find a way to keep our prices up, or else we will lose a substantial portion of our revenue. We tried shutting down their website on Friday, but they are back up now and kicking (I believe as Already 's version of St. John's Wort is eating into our revenue for the anti-depressent market, and I understand that they are planning on coming up with a clone for Viagra, which they will manufacture cheaply for the public. I hope your company sees our view on this, and if we work together we can find a way to stay profitable.

Regards, Fred

A quick check shows that the domain does not exist. Duh. Both of the other domains mentioned are registered to Daniel Socoloff, which sounds familiar. I've already complained to Bell Atlantic/Verizon. 

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Saturday, 12 May 2001

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I finished updating another chapter--this one 07 - High-Capacity Floppy Disk Drives--and sent it off to my editor. I actually posted the chapter for download on the Subscribers Page yesterday afternoon, but I'm just now getting around to letting people know it's available for download and review. It's a 143 KB Word 2000 document (smaller this time because there aren't any embedded pictures). If you care to read and comment on it, I'd love to hear what you have to say. There's a link on the subscribers' page that you can click to provide feedback in the Subscribers Only forum on the messageboard. 

I hope to have at least one and possibly two more short chapters up this weekend. If you want to watch sausage being made, here's the place to do it. This stuff is all unedited, just as I submit it to my editor. Actually, it's worse than that, because I used my own last unedited version from the prior edition for each of these chapters, rather than the version that O'Reilly had edited. I did that because O'Reilly had farmed out copy editing on the prior edition to some contract workers who butchered the job, including introducing a ton of typos that weren't in my original text (believe it or not). It was much easier just to start from my original first edition manuscript than to try to fix what they'd broken.

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

Big article in the paper this morning about three prescription allergy drugs--Allegra, Claritin, and Zyrtec--which are likely to become over-the-counter soon. Two things are unusual about this case. First, these drugs are relatively new, and in the ordinary course of things their manufacturers would want to continue to milk the ethical market for quite a while longer before they went to OTC sales. Second, it's usually the drug companies themselves that decide when to make the move to OTC. This time, though, it's the health insurers who are pushing for the change. These drugs apparently cost consumers about $60/month, and most insurers pay all but $10 or $20 of that, sticking them with large bills for ethical drugs. If these drugs become OTC, they no longer have to pay for them.

That was the focus of the story, but the real story goes further. Once these drugs become OTC, their prices will drop dramatically. The article did mention that in Canada, where they're already OTC, a month's supply costs about $11. That's likely to happen here, too, because suddenly there'll be three new highly-promoted allergy drugs hitting the OTC shelves, and free market forces will bring them down to more realistic pricing levels. Everyone wins. The consumers win because they'll pay less. Barbara, for example, currently has a $20 co-pay, so she'll soon end up paying half as much for her allergy medication. The insurance companies win because they don't have to pay for these three popular drugs any more. And even the drug companies win, because their actual cost to produce the drug is trivial, so the tradeoff of higher volume for lower prices will likely improve their total profits from the drugs. Well, I suppose in one sense the pharmacists and drugstores lose, because they're losing relatively high-margin sales and gaining low-margin sales, but again volume should make up the difference.

Now if only we could get to the point where all drugs were over the counter. Except, perhaps, antibiotics, where there really is a compelling need to control usage for the benefit of all of us. Other than that, it makes no sense to control any drug, including ones that are currently illegal. 

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Sunday, 13 May 2001

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Happy Mothers' Day. Barbara's parents, sister, and sister's boyfriend are coming over for a cookout this afternoon, so Barbara is cleaning house even more deeply than usual this morning. She did take a break to haul out the lawnmower, string trimmer, edger, and shop vac, and use them to give me a haircut. I suppose I'd better get the laundry started.

I worked all day yesterday on Chapter 8, Removable Hard Disk Drives. In the first edition, this chapter totaled about 1.5 pages, mainly because I needed the page count elsewhere, but for the next edition I'm expanding on that significantly. I'm treating the Iomega Jaz as pretty much a product to avoid unless you just have to transfer data back and forth with a service bureau that supports only Jaz. For people who for some reason really need a cartridge-based removable hard drive, I'm recommending the Castlewood ORB Drive (although I really see little point to cartridge-based drives at all). For general purpose removable hard drives, I'm recommending the StorCase frames and carriers, used with standard hard disk drives. If you have any comments, please post them on the messageboard.

More stupid spam. I got one last night that started:

Have you been considering filing


Don't do it until you read this information

Well, no, I'm not considering filing for bankruptcy. But if I were, I wouldn't take advice from someone who can't even spell bankruptcy. Would anyone with better than a room-temperature IQ? That's as bad as the one that offered "dipplomas" by mail. Of course, spammers are by definition not the sharpest knives in the drawer, so I suppose this shouldn't come as a surprise.



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