September 21 - 27, 1998
An irregular journal of things computerish.
For the BYTE story, click here.
COMPUTING at Chaos Manor: the Column
See http://www.thesitefights.com/wepatrol/mil_bug.gif for a view of the Y2K problem.
If you want to PAY FOR THIS there are problems, but I keep the latest HERE. I'm trying. MY THANKS to all of you who sent money. I'm making up a the mailing list. There are enough that it's a chore, which is not something to complain about. Some of you went to a lot of trouble to send money from overseas. Thank you! There are also some new payment methods. I am preparing a special (electronic) mailing to all those who paid: there will be a couple of these. I am also toying with the notion of a subscriber section of the page. LET ME KNOW your thoughts.
If you subscribed, CLICK HERE for a Special Request.
If you didn't and haven't, why not? If this seems a lot about paying think of it as the Subscription Drive Nag. You'll see more.
This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. The regular COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 4,000 words, will appear monthly when I get orbanized. Real Soon Now.
I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying.
Monday, September 21, `998
This will go to the new View page when I build it, but for the moment:
I am finishing the 7 gig LINUX box.
ADVICE WANTED: what next? Do I start with DOS, install System Commander, and go from there? When and where do I put in Linux? I really want to have both Windows 98 and Linux on this box (there certainly ought to be room!) and to have a SyQuest 1 gig cartridge, and a TEAC CD/RW drive in it.
What is the first step once I have the box ready to go? What do I format that huge disk into, and before that, what partitions?
Actually this is late Monday night. I have got the new box -- not yet named, but I'll think of one -- up and running without incident other than that I didn't have the floppy data cable plugged in just right, I had the hard disk LED connected backward (that turns it on all the time), and I had the on/off LED connected in the wrong place.
I had the floppy cable in but not pushed in all the way. The fault was the cable key; to enable the disk to receive a keyed cable, you must break off a little tab on the electronics board. It's pretty clear how to do it once you see it needs to be done, but it's a LOT easier to do if you do it before you mount the disk drive. I managed to break it off with alligator pliers, but I didn't get it completely cleared, and although it appeared that the data cable inserted properly, it didn't. The result was that I got video when the system started up, and it reported that it thought it had a floppy drive, but the drive "FAILED". Inspection showed the cable not properly seated. I turned the machine off, seated the cable properly, turned it on, and up she came.
Fixing the LED's was a matter of just doing it. Nothing important to report. The MSI motherboard documents are better than I had complained of, they just need careful reading. The PC Power and Cooling power leads are properly labeled. Everything seems to work. For the record, this is a CYRIX with MX. I have 64 megs of Kingston SIMM memory. One of these days I'll probably replace that with a 128 DIMM. The mouse is a Fry's El Cheap ($9.95) combo PS/2 / Serial mouse that will undoubtedly be replaced before the system is actually put to use. The Video board is an STB Velocity 128, which Eric says will scream for games.
For the moment I'll have to put in an Intel ISA 10 megabit Ethernet card because that's all I have. I'll buy a Fry's Bay Systems 10/100 for $29 next time I'm out there or when they have them on sale. If you get used to 100 megabits, 10 seems awfully slow. For sound at the moment I have a Diamond Monster, but I may have to put in something else just to be sure of being Sound Blaster compatible. Of course if Linux goes on without problems it won't matter. I have never seen everything go just right.
I have already created and formatted a 1 gig partition for DOS/Windows 98. I'll install that in the morning. I'll reserve another partition for whatever else I feel like putting on there, and let Linux have the rest. I am informed that Linux has a perfectly good boot manager and thus I don't need System Commander. I will put Partition Magic on.
Now it's late enough that I'll get to bed, but the system is up and running. Tomorrow Roberta says I have to put in time in the Monk's Cell so I may not get too much done on this. Today was devoured by locusts.
Tuesday, September 22, 1998
Apparently the system was down in a weird way yesterday. I could post updates, but no one could get at the site. Mail worked, FTP worked, but it wasn't possible to find the site with either Netscape or Internet Explorer. This was a problem at the ISP level, and it was fixed once discovered, but it took a while to discover. Of course you didn't see it unless you tried to refresh (reload?) a page, which I don't do. Anyway, it's all taken care of now.
I'm off to breakfast, after which the Linux adventure begins. One minor problem: I have not yet got the PS/2 mouse to work. It is likely a problem with the cable connection, but it sure doesn't work. On startup I don't see the "PS/2 Mouse detected" that one sees announced by the BIOS. The MSI Documents say there is a way to enable and disable a PS/2 mouse in the BIOS, but I sure can't find one: the page they show this command on does not have it. Apparently MSI uses the same documents for several of their motherboards. Ungood. Double Plus Ungood. My other MSI boards are the other form factor (ATX? I'll look it up another time) with the PS/2 Mouse and the small keyboard connector already taken care of. This one is an AT form factor, and has a pair of 5 pins in a straight line, one for a keyboard, the other for a PS/2 mouse. This is shown clearly enough in the documents, but I haven't been able to get it to work with the mouse. I have the mouse with mouse adapter on COM 2, and since I am not likely to need both COM ports this will work, but it's a minor annoyance. I'll keep poking at it because I tend to be compulsive that way.
I like two brands of keyboards. One, ORTEK, is programmable and for web stuff it's great since I have hardware macros for passwords, www.jerrypournelle.com, and stuff like that. The other comes from Avant. Both are made on the same frames and with the same positive key feel that Northgate used to have. You can find the Avant at:
and their quote from me is accurate.
I'm thinking of Linette for the name of this new box. We'll see after coffee.
For the Linux Adventure see the new Linux Adventure page. I'll transfer or copy a lot of this stuff over there too.
There has to be an alternative to Microsoft. Their arrogant paranoia is no longer just funny, it costs time and lots of it.
I thought to install Windows 98 on this box, with the notion of using its diagnostic features to be sure everything works. After all I bought 98, and I won't be using that copy at the same time with any other machine running it. But to install it directly it wants proof that you have Windows 95. OK, I have the floppies. Put in Floppy 1. That's the boot floppy and it won't accept that. Figure out that it's 1 it wants. OK, 1. It doesn't actually say it accepts it, but if you hit next, it trundles. Then it wants disk 2. Well, OK. Then 3. Then 4. Then 5. Then 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13
And all this at several MINUTES per floppy. I have wasted nearly an hour just making their stupid program believe I have a copy of another program.
This of course removes any MORAL obligation to pay any attention to them: they owe me my hourly fee for consulting time. It comes to considerably more than I paid for this lame product, which, by the way, destroyed many of the Word Perfect files our Church kept, and which would not uninstall on the Church Compaq. The secretary had to scrub the system, reinstall 95, then reinstall all her applications. It took her two days. So Windows 98 apparently is paranoid about Word Perfect, and in her case seemed to look for ways to eat part of her files. (St. Mary's bought Windows 98 against my advice; Tanya likes to experiment. Now she knows better.)
DO NOT USE Windows 98 with Word Perfect. It just HATES it. And if you install 98 from one of the upgrade CD's, you probably would do better to copy the W95 CD to your hard disk. I PRESUME that will do the trick, but I don't know it. But proving you have 95 from floppies is a disaster. I don't know how you would show you have 95 on a CD. I suppose remove the 98 CD, insert the 95 CD, and then reverse that when done. The problem here is that there are no instructions, and you can't know; and after copying that 20 digit serial number you have invested enough time that you are reluctant to risk wasting it. Believe me, risk it: the time you wasted inserting the serial number is as nothing compared to the time you'll waste feeding it CD's of a program you don't even want to install.
Now of course if Microsoft wants to make its products buggy and hard to use, that's Microsoft business; but it also means the rest of us need some alternatives to this arrogance. Monopolies aren't themselves evil; monopolies that harm the customers are, and this one is doing just that with paranoid arrogance.
I don't think I know any individuals at Microsoft that I don't like, and I know a lot of them. They tend to be hard working friendly and decent people, By and large I'm satisfied with the Company's products, I use a lot of them, and I have been a pretty strong supporter of the notion that the government ought to stay the heck out of private industry, and that includes Microsoft. However, all that power they have argues that they need to be careful: they should make some concessions to users. They don't. Windows 98 install program is designed to make you wish you had installed 95 before you started. It was clearly intentional. You can hear someone saying, "So they want to use floppies to prove they qualifiy, do that? We'll ficx them! Cackle, cackle." It must have been fun.
That's their business too, but it is an arrogant conceit that I for one want an alternative to.
I suppose I will calm down in a bit, but after feeding 12 floppies into a system in order to install a CDROM, it may not be soon. This is not a rational way to do business.
One of my SyQuest IDE 1 gig drives is dead; I'd intended to install it in the Linux box. It was abused by another worker, and I'll see if I can make contact with SyQuest, because we have had good success with those drives in the past. I'd like to have one in this machine. Anyway, that ate the evening, so the Linux Adventure starts tomorrow. I have some questions for those who know about this stuff. The adventure page has various letters and advice, but there's not a heck of a lot there yet. That will change as will its organization.
You can find the Chaos Manor Columns up now. You will already have seen them if you subscribe to bugnet. Bugnet buys non-exclusive rights, and I've voluntarily given them a couple of weeks exclusivity before putting the columns here. Over time I'll also dig up some of the old BYTE columns from previous times and put them up: I own the rights after a time lapse, and they may as well be here as at the new CMP site.
Still collecting information on the Linux box. I'll get at it, but I also have to write, and I have to work on a book proposal, and we had some meetings with the producers of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (I love that show) in my agent's office and I had better get those meeting notes written up and distributed before everyone forgets which ideas were mine.
It's a full life if you don't weaken
Now here is an interesting situation. I tried to make some changes in web organization, and the result was that Front Page recalculated a lot of links. This is fine. This is what is supposed to happen. But now the fun began, and this will definitelymake next month's column.
When I went to 'publish' the new results, the upload died about 1/3 of the way through, on a file that turns out to be irrelevant; what had happened was that Earthlink's connection rotted out, and while I could ping my site, I couldn't contact it. I couldn't refresh, either. Bob Thompson was able to refresh, and Darnell, calling from the Millicent booth at the Internet Commerce Show (MILLICENT LIVES! I'll have more on that in a bit, but they have a broker in Paris and will have world wide service in a few months!) was able to access everything from their booth. (Darnell is the owner of binmedia where I keep the Chaosmanor.net and jerrypournelle.com web sites; those two are identical at the moment but may not always be.)
So the problem was Earthlink. I shut down, restarted the system, tried again. Publish. This time about half way through it died. It got an "access denied" message when it tried to upload a page called "win98.htm". Start over. SAME THING. Log on with ftp-32 and try again. Can transfer any file but that one. Access denied. Clearly it was the file name. Rename the file. VOILA!
So first was Earthlink (which JoAnne calls 'dirtlink' sometimes, but I find it works well enough usually) and then was the file name. Only -- HOW did that file EVER get up there in the first place? Something must be different now from when we uploaded it before. In any event, win98.htm is now a reserve file name, only the error message is "access denied". Ungood but not double plus ungood; once understood it's easy enough to avoid.
If you rename a file in Front Page Explorer it offers to recalculate all the links to that file, which is double plus good.
However my picture seems to be gone, and other crap has happened. So it didn't do all the links properly, and I suspect I will be fixing broken links for a while. First to find out what happened to my picture, but lunch before that.
Well, I still don't know, but I have got the picture back.
Hike after lunch, then 2 hours fiction. Then dinner. Then watch Sherlock Holmes, The Creeping Man. Then I made the mistake of looking at mail before I began playing with Linux, and used the time finding why the Linux page was formatted badly. See mail. But it's done now. It's also late, and I rather hate small computers just at the moment, so I think I'll read a book.
Early morning. This should be a writing day, so I may or may not get to the Linux box before the weekend. Used last night straightening out formatting (see mail). Have a lot more mail on Linux, which I am working at putting into the system. It takes time.
I'm also reorganizing.
I have sent out a mailing to the "I Paid" list. If you belong on that list and didn't get it, send mail with the RIGHT RETURN ADDRESS. Hand changing mail list entries takes time I don't have: I put those messages in a folder, but I don't get to that folder often. Ones with the right return address get into the system automatically; that includes address changes, since I copy them in with the "overwrite" option. The whole process of updating the list takes no more than ten minutes, using the 'wabmig' process described in the current column. Incidentally at least two people have told me what wabmig stands for, and I have forgotten. The mig is migration; what the wab is has eluded my memory. I'll have to find the mail and post it so we will all know. One of my informants is a Microsoft engineer delighted to know something the product managers don't (and who wants to be anonymous for I expect good reasons )
[Don't bother searching: wab=windows address book
Robert Bruce Thompson]
I suppose my Microsoft diatribe was a bit severe, but I will leave it stand. There is absolutely no need to put legitimate customers through that much crap in order to protect Microsoft from piracy. IN the first place, pirates are not going to bother with floppies. They'll burn a copy of the CD and be done with it. Now I can understand that copying a single floppy is easy enough that pirates will do it, and thus requiring at least one more disk from the set as authentication: but surely that can be done by a random process? Select two of the 13 at random and require those be inserted, and validate on two selected files. Surely enough? Instead of making legitimate users spend 2 to 4 minutes each on 13 disks -- nearly an HOUR!!!! --- 2 minutes on each of two disks ought to be enough. And I have not forgotten that hour. In my case, I have to say on reflection that Microsoft has, with their support of things I have done, more than compensated me for the hour so they owe me nothing personally; but they might think about what costing legitimate customers an hour of time does to the customer's attitude. Oh. Well.
Later, after my hike:
First we had another runaway process on the server, but that was fixed in a couple of minutes. I continue to reorganize this place, moving a lot of stuff into folders so that I have less in the root. NT being what it is, every now and then as I try to type this in WORD it decides that I have sent a command to the Front Page renaming process and asks if I want to quit. I have no idea whether it has done the job properly but it does seem still to be trundling. We'll know shortly.
Anyway, it is done, and now to upload about 90 files
ANd it looks like most picture links are broken. Lunch first. Then I have to go correct by hand. Don't trust Front Page to reorganize for you. It don't. Actually, things are more complex than that. What I found was that the html references to the missing images were correct, but the image itself had not been uploaded to the new subdirectory; a few minutes (actually more like half an hour, but I could get in a quick game while it was happening) with ftp-32 fixed that. But it is odd.
If you find missing images, as I am sure you will, please let me know.
AND BE SURE TO REFRESH everything.
Friday, September 25, 1998
I am becoming increasingly annoyed at WORD which, when I type the date, offers to fill it in for me, but it is ALWAYS THE WRONG DATE. Today it wanted to give me Friday, September 23, 1998 (it just did that again). WHY? Is there any way to set the blooming date? Now admittedly, I can just ignore its offer to fill in the date and type by hand and I am no worse off than if it didn't make the offer, but it is still annoying to a compulsive monomaniac like me. Why doesn't it work PROPERLY?
The big move to put the images in one subdirectory, mail in another, and view in a third, seems to have worked, with the only problem being that while FP recalculated all the links, it did NOT upload all the image files to the new 'folder' (subdirectory). I had to use ftp-32 to do that by hand. This didn't take that long and I could play Total Annihilation on the other machine while it was doing it. I think it's all fixed now. If you see broken images, please let me know.
One reader reports something very odd on the new mail 'home' page. I can't see it an no one else has said anything. If you don't see a problem please don't tell me! Send mail on that only if you DO see it
We were awakened at 6 AM by a fax machine calling our house number. It called every 5 minutes, so I got up and attached the phone to the fax machine. We got the message, which wasn't for us, and is about someone's good being moved across country. Boy is he going to be surprised. Why they called our house number isn't clear, but it's sure a nasty way to be awakened.
My SyQuest SparQ 1 gig internal drive began uncontrollable chattering and crashed W 98. A reader reported good experiences with SyQuest so I called the SyQuest 800 trouble line. It took 10 minutes to get a human being (although they offered to record my number and call me back, it was no particular problem to put them on the speaker phone while I went on about my busines) but once I had someone it all went smoothly. They wanted the serial number of the drive. I then got an RMA number, and when I mail the drive in they will send me a new one. That simple. I have to say I'm pretty happy with SyQuest on this. I like those internal 1 gigabyte IDE drives. We have three of them and that work, two internal, one external that connects to the parallel port. This one was used in an experimental way that may have had something to do with its demise, or it may have been defective. They didn't ask. I like that. We also have a couple of SyQuest SyJet 1.5 gigabyte SCSI drives and they work fine too.
Now I have to go send that drive off, and while I'm at it there's yet another sale at Fry's. I still do not have the upgrade kit for the Palm Pilot. A big Fedex box from Red hat arrived a few minutes ago. It's getting on for time to do Linux. I am presuming that a serial mouse won't be a problem. I have not heard whether I need an ISA or a PCI sound card. I suppose I'll find out. I am told that the STB Velocity 128 with Riva video chip is supported by Red Hat. With luck I'll get at Linux this afternoon and tomorow. I want to be sure to have time to do things right so far as the Log Book is concerned. Log Books are the great secret of success...
I have a new column in www.intellectualcapital.com current issue; this one on encryption.
For those who read my keyboard review in the April BYTE, but find that the link is broken from the BYTE site, try
which should get you to the proper place. I'll do a keyboard review again Real Soon Now.
Saturday, September 26, 1998
Off to hike. Tried to find UPS batteries in an alarm and security store this week, but so far have found none in the Valley that have them. Today the 1800batteries catalog came, but they don't show UPS batteries either. I expect they're on the web site, or if I call, but this is annoying. Fry's doesn't have them either. Surely someone in LA has UPS batteries?
Have to run, back in a bit.
Eric takes my date complaint (see mail also) and comes up with an interesting idea:
Eric Pobirs [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Beyond that it doesnt appear to have any more rules to test. I wouldnt be surprised if they had the code on hand to let the system test the validity of any date combination far into the future. Such program are not uncommon but it may have run into issues of real-time performance and memory requirements when it came to burying it in Word.
I could see placing this kind of thing directly in the OS though, since being a core function could reduce resource usage and make what it does consume more acceptable. Making sophisticated date validation available to all programmers certainly adds value yet isnt enough of a standalone app to be regarded as unfair competition.
What other facilities wed like to see add to an operating system should make for interesting discussion.
And indeed it would make an interesting discussion. The first think I would like to see is that it offered the CORRECT date. At the moment I am offered a date but it isn't right, nor could it be: it offers me Saturday September 23 1998. I shut down Word and reopened thinking it may get the date from the day I opened the file but it does not. It believes this is the 23. The clock at the bottom of the page thinks it's the 26th. This may drive me nuts.
As to other features in the OS, yes; and that hauls me closer to trying to set up a moderated discussion group. It would have to have rules, and some volunteer moderators; you would have to register to join, receive an email giving the rules, and reply to that email. I think that can be set up. I'll see.