August 21 Through August 30, 1998

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BOOK Reviews



An irregular journal of things computerish.

For the BYTE story, click here.

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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 trying to make up 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.  One thing: if you send money, please either enclose a letter, or put your email address on the envelope: I try to copy them off checks but I know I have missed a couple only to find later there was no email address on any other scrap of paper...  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.

I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying.

Year 2000 Discussion

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Friday, August 21, 1998

We're back from the beach. Roberta will probably go back down again for another week.

Main new thing is a Princeton 17" Monitor. My ViewSonic 16" I keep at the beach got dim. I could read it, but it became very difficult, and I can't work that way; so off to Fry's, which in San Diego is very new.

They had a ViewSonic on sale for about $350 and a special sale on a Princeton 17" at $288. Given that all I wanted was text performance, and it looked very good in the demo there at the store, I bought the Princeton. Took it back to the beach house, plugged it in, turned it one, and whammo, with the W 95b drivers, it was fine and dandy. It doesn't come with a disk of drivers: apparently it was written to meet the W 95 plug and play monitor specs, and uses the ones supplied with Windows 95. They sure worked.

I used it for two weeks. No problems whatever. I like ViewSonic a lot, and if I were going to use that monitor for stuff that needed really good color balance I would have thought harder; but the Princeton is more than Good Enough for what I wanted, namely Word and a bit of Total Annihilation for relaxation, and at $288 it was quite a bargain.

Now I am home with my lovely ViewSonic 21's.


Got maybe 4500 words done, which isn't much for a couple of weeks, but I also got my plot in better order. I'm beginning to understand what the Galactics want, and what Inspector Agzaral wants (he may be their agent but he doesn't have their agenda; that's clear from the earlier Janissaries books).

Several of you have volunteered to do some materials to keep the site updated when I am off writing. Let's discuss that. It can probably be arranged, with Eric and Darnell able to put stuff up here while I'm away. Next time, too, I'll probably take Front Page on my laptop. But I confess I wanted a break from all this.


Query: it is my understanding that bombarding a foreign nation is an act of war. While Afghanistan has no universally recognized government, the Taliban is pretty well the de facto government. The Taliban had no great reason to hate us. We had been the enemy of their enemy (the USSR) after all. They were bankrolled by bin what's his name, so they were not going to denounce him; but they could have been in the position I often take, when I say that I do not insist that my friends like each other.

We are now at war with the Taliban; they have said so; and they are fairly fierce people, although how far outside their mountains their writs (and fatwas) run isn't clear. Still, if I had to make a list of people to hate me, they would not be at the top.

The Constitution of the United States was written by people who very well understood that the King of England had the right to make war on whomever he pleased, without consulting Parliament. We deliberately did not give that power to the President. It was explicitly given to the Congress.

If we want war with Sudan and Afghanistan, is it not up to the Congress to DECLARE that war? Is it the act of a constitutional Republic to bombard other people's cities and territories on the sole decision of the President? That, I would have thought, is more suited to Empire than to Republic. Of course I had the same to say about the Gulf War; the Congress abdicated the decision there with it's joint resolution of support for Bush, and the Great Victory silenced all the questions; but it was still war without Congressional Declaration, and I am not sure I like that much. IN the present case it is even less clear why the President has the constitutional authority to bombard foreign sovereign powers without a declaration of war.

As a practical matter, perhaps bombardment of these terrorist facilities was a good plan. I am willing to believe the President and his advisors: that these were terrorist facilities, and they were connected in some real way with the destruction of our Embassies in East Africa. I am willing to believe that the timing was dictated by tactical circumstances and had nothing to do with crowding Lewinsky's testimony off the front pages. What I am not so certain of is whether the Constitution gives the President the power to make war on whomever he pleases; a power enjoyed by the British Crown (which today means the Cabinet, but not Parliament) but which was explicitly taken from the President (with or without the Cabinet and the National Security Council) and given to the Congress.

We are now at war to the knife with the Taliban; we will find our own freedoms much restricted by the new security measures at airports and elsewhere; and my question is, when did we change the Constitution to give this power to the President rather than the Congress?

(A number of you have responded that we often make wars without the consent of Congress and have since Barbary Pirate days. Actually Congress approved sending a war fleet to deliver the tribute after the USS George Washington was commandeered by the Dey of Tunis and required to deliver his ambassador to Constantinople and actually declared war after the end of the War of 1812. But perhaps that misses the point anyway. I'll more on this in Mail when I get a chance.)

Anyway, I'm back, and tomorrow I'll get to some of the new computer stuff.

Tuesday, 25 August, 1998

It's Noon. If you haven't seen my Year 2000 stuff over on you might want to look. I have some mail on it that I will discuss. I have to go out this afternoon; one thing is to pick up a Palm III. I'm also getting stuff together for a Linux Box. I'm going to the Hollywood Bowl tonight, and I have a bunch of stuff to do, but I'll get at it. For the Y2K discussion proper click here.

Advice on basic components of a Linux box welcome. I also have all the stuff for a Windows 98 box, although I have little eagerness to put that together: I haven't seen the advantages.  Winnie, the W 95 OSR2 WinChip box, is stable and working well.

BUGNET is about to publish my next column: shortly after that I'll put it up here also. What I get from Bugnet is (1) money for non-exclusive use, and (2) we hope some publicity and new readers. For all those who have stuck with me while I was out working on fiction, thanks. I'll try to get something up every day in future.

The Y2K discussion that was here has been moved to Y2K.

I was going out to Fry's to get a Palm Pilot III, but I didn't manage. Tomorrow, I think. What I have is a "Palm Pilot Professional" made by US Robotics. It works and I like it, but I don't know that I can add memory to it: I may have an orphan. Besides, I do like gadgets, and if the subscriptions keep coming in -- if you have not subscribed, do so now, I can use the money for experiments like this -- I can afford it. And it's well to have the latest.

When Dvorak and I were in Finland together he amazed me with all the things he could do with his Palm Pilot. I have since got a bunch of software for it. I intend to see what I can do with the Palm Pilot III; report when I know more. I'm also getting the rest of the parts for a Linux box. Stay tuned. Now I am off to the Hollywood Bowl.


Wednesday, August 26, 1998

Well, it often pays to be lazy. Yesterday I mumbled something about intending to buy a new Palm III, but while I was out on other errands sanity struck: I'd heard a bit about upgrade kits, and I figured it would do no harm to wait. Besides, it was about 100 in the Valley, and I had Bowl tickets, and didn't want to rush about; and Wednesday is when Fry's announces mid-week specials, particularly on mother boards. So I came back home.

As well I did. A lot of you sent me mail pointing to the 3-COM web site and the announcement of the Palm III upgrade. Now what I have is the older US Robotics Palm Pilot Professional, and I wasn't sure there was an upgrade to that, but there is. A call to the 3-COM 800 number confirmed that, and a nice young lady named Amy told me that while they don't know which stores carry the upgrade kits, Fry's, Staples, and Circuit City are all dealers, and one of those was almost certain to have that kit. So, in a few minutes, I'll be off to buy one. Helpful suggestions welcome: and I am particularly interested in pointers to downloadable software other than on CompuServe and AOL. Dvorak got most of his neat stuff from CompuServe but I don't have an account there. Perhaps I should but there is only so much time in a day….

I'll also get a copy of Red Hat Linux (yes, plenty of you have offered to send me copies and of course the main product is freeware, but I figure I may as well support the people who support the product, so to speak; and I definitely want the documents; and my goal is to make my experience as close to yours as possible). There's also a special on 233 MHz motherboards with Intel chip, and while I have a supply of WinChips as well as an old CYRIX, I thought I might as well eliminate a source of problems: use an Intel to start with, learn something of Linux, and go on from there.

If you want to help me on Linux, it's and all suggestions from experienced users welcome. I am particularly interested in baby talk explanations of how I can get my Windows productivity applications running properly.

I haven't yet decided whether to make this an IDE or a SCSI box. I have several IDE drives, and at the moment no SCSI although Fry's has a big sale on large SCSI drives; pity the subscriptions haven't been as active the last couple of weeks (my fault for taking a vacation, I know, I know) so I don't think I'll buy one. I have a stack of Adaptec SCSI controllers and at least one DPT, so it won't be that hard to change over. Meanwhile my Linux advisors say Linux doesn't really care whether it's SCSI or IDE, but Darnell, who's the only one actually running it -- he's converting his ISP site (where this page is hosted) from NT to Linux having got unhappy with NT -- is all SCSI. As I say, we'll start IDE and see what happens.

The Bowl was great. All Beethoven, with the Budapest Symphony Orchestra. They sure lay things out different from us. The strings were divided, about half the violins and the Concert Master on the conductor's left (Stage right) as in the US, but the other on the right. Since violins are very directional in sound this produces an odd effect, mitigated at the Bowl since that's electronically enhanced, but still pronounced. The base viols were all up at the top where the timpani usually hangs out, eight of them in a long row. Considerably smaller woodwind section than the Bowl regulars. Very thin brass section, and that divided with the English horns (only 2) to the conductor's left and the rest of the brass over to his right. Our seats are on the right (Stage left) side of the Bowl so I wasn't able to count the brass, but there can't have been many trumpets and cornets, and I never saw a tuba. Very thin brass, which makes the Eroica sound a bit odd. They also did the third Leonora overture (I believe Beethoven wrote 4 overtures to that opera, but the fourth is called "Fidelio" as is the opera itself). In Leonora there's a scene where the new governor is coming: in this overture that's echoed by a trumpet call, and they placed the trumpeter in one of the Bowl's towers well behind us, so you got the trumpet call and the orchestra answering, mildly reminiscent of choir chant done right. They also did an encore in honor of Bernstein, a traditional Hungarian folk song played from another tower on an instrument whose name I didn't catch, but it's sort of like a clarinet.

The English horns were pretty good when playing different parts, but with only two, even a tiny disparity in tuning was noticeable when they tried to play in harmony.

All in all, a smaller orchestra than we're used to. Still larger than anything Mozart would have recognized. One wonders what Mozart might have done had he lived a few years later when we had the technology to get a lot of instruments of different types all playing in the same key?

It now appears we may have been suckered by deliberate manipulation of our ELINT: the meeting in Afghanistan may have been something other than a mass meeting of terrorists, with bin Ladin's people using cell phones to make calls they knew would be intercepted. Similarly, the plant in the Sudan may have been a pharmaceutical company after all. The problem with V chemicals is that the same precursors are used for common insecticides for use on locusts, and God knows that's a legitimate thing to have in that area of the world. It may be we acted in haste on interpretations from one faction of the intelligence community without listening to the counter arguments from another set of analysts. The good news is that the Taliban seem also to believe we were deliberately suckered into hitting their territory, and they aren't too happy with either us or the people who did that. But all this is only slowly filtering out: it's hard to get information from that part of the world, and even harder to know what's information and what's disinformation.

So: I'm off on errands. Palm III upgrade, here I come.


That didn’t turn out so well. I got the Red Hat. I didn't like the mother boards, but then I have several and some chips, so I can still build a Linux box.

The real problem is those upgrade kits: Fry's doesn't have them and doesn't expect them although the chap there thought they once did have them. Staples doesn't have them. 3COM has them backordered and will send next week. So: there's going to be a bit of a delay in turning my Professional into a Palm III. In addition, I managed to let the batteries run out on mine, so the poor thing reset itself and I get to start over with the Professional.

So: Palm Pilot users: what do you do first? What if anything do you download, what install on the system you attach your Palm Pilot to, etc., etc. Let's start over and see. Advice to me at and meanwhile I'm collecting other stuff.

Now I have to go to Hollywood. I managed to leave my credit card at the Hamburger Hamlet, a fact I discovered in the checkout line at Fry's. I called. They have it. It's just a question of going over the hill, which I better do now.

(It was there, and I even got free parking so the only penalty was having to drive over the hill. On the way back, just for fun I took Nichols Canyon, which takes forever to get to to Laurel Canyon and Mullholland (I normally take Laurel Canyon). Longtime Heinlein readers will recall Nichols Canyon from "Year of the Jackpot."

Thursday, August 27, 1998

Today I have to write fiction, although I will work a bit on the new LINUX box. On that score, I have a Special Report by Talin on the Open Source Developers Conference. There'll be another by Robert Bruce Thompson as soon as I locate it in the goofy mail filing system I use or he sends another copy.

Still working on the Linux box. I've got a lot of useful suggestions from readers and I'll digest them. Haven't seen the newspapers or had breakfast yet, so I'm in a bit of a hurry.



I'm going up to the Monk's Cell to write, so you'll have to make do with Talin and a special report on backing up NT from Robert Bruce Thompson.

Thompson writes for O'Reilly Press. I have never seen a bad O'Reilly book. I just got a package of review copies, including one on Palm Pilot that I'll read before I do anything drastic with my Pilot; it looks extremely useful. Full report when I get to it. I've also revived Franklin Ascend 5.0 as my calendar and datebook. I just wasn't that happy with Outlook. Perhaps, with the new O'Reilly book and suggestions from readers, I'll be able to make Outlook do what I like. I'm about to install Office 2000 with it's updated Outlook on Princess, the main NT station here; 2000 seems stable enough to be worth a more extensive try. It may prove to be the key to making Outlook plus Palm Pilot be the PDA/PIM I need.

Here's one fewer problem:

I became concerned that Outlook keeps everything in a big file called outlook.pst which cannot be copied if Outlook is open. That made it hard to back up, or so I thought. So I sent a note to Irving Kwong, the Wagged rep for Office 2000 who visited here a couple of weeks ago. You learn something every day. Here's his reply, and the web reference is excellent.


You can easily back up the entire PST or only specific folders within it by exporting data to another PST (and not have to shut down Outlook). Exporting is a convenient way to create a backup copy of a folder. When you export, the items in the folder are copied to the export file. To keep the PST from getting unmanageable, we also recommend that users auto-archive their information (under Tools. Options. AutoArchive). When you archive, the items in the folder are moved to the archive file. Starting with Outlook 98, auto-archiving occurs in the background so users can continue to work in Outlook while their old items are moved into an archive store.

For more information on the Personal Folders File and specific steps on how to back it up, please go to:

Please let me know if you have any questions, thanks.

Irving Kwong

Now as it happens the Talin special report also led to a great deal more about the Yorktown incident; if that interests you, go have a look.


Friday, August 28, 1998

The Yorktown Affair was mentioned in Talin's special report.  Briefly:

"The USS Yorktown had to be towed into the Naval base at Norfolk, Va., because a database overflow caused its propulsion system to fail, according to Anthony DiGiorgio, a civilian engineer with the Atlantic Fleet Technical Support Center in Norfolk."

This has generated an on-going discussion that now has its own page.

I will send this along to Microsoft and see if there is any official comment. For the record, The USS Hopper is operated with NT systems (some of my report is on this web page; I also did a column, which I can't post here yet due to copyright ownership: BYTE had exclusive rights for a period before I get them back). I saw and heard of no problems with the Hopper while I was aboard, and she had just completed a voyage from Virginia to San Diego through the Panama Canal.

This was a lot to get done before breakfast, but you can see it on the Yorktown page. More when I get more. Incidentally, this is certainly being read in the Pentagon. We will follow where it leads...


If you subscribed, be sure to click here.

I now have a new page for discussion of Microsoft and Monopoly; it began with Darnell and Eric, and you're invited.

For those who sent mail about PILOT, I have it and I am working on Pilot; I'll have a special report and much of your mail, including the wonderful links you have been sending. I'm dancing as fast as I can...

I am also surprised at how little comment I am getting on the Y2K business. Over on IntellectualCapital I got TONS of mail, most calling me a fool. Interesting.

I post this without comment. It came to me on another channel:

I've been attending the USENIX NT and LISA NT (Large Installation Systems
Administration for NT) conference in downtown Seattle this week.

One of those magical Microsoft moments(tm) happened yesterday and I
thought that I'd share. Non-geeks may not find this funny at all, but
those in geekdom (particularly UNIX geekdom) will appreciate it.

Greg Sullivan, a Microsoft product manager (henceforth MPM), was holding
forth on a forthcoming product that will provide Unix style scripting and
shell services on NT for compatibility and to leverage UNIX expertise that
moves to the NT platform. The product suite includes the MKS (Mortise
Kern Systems) windowing Korn shell, a windowing PERL, and lots of goodies
like awk, sed and grep. It actually fills a nice niche for which other
products (like the MKS suite) have either been too highly priced or not
well enough integrated.

An older man, probably mid-50s, stands up in the back of the room and
asserts that Microsoft could have done better with their choice of Korn
shell. He asks if they had considered others that are more compatible
with existing UNIX versions of KSH.

The MPM said that the MKS shell was pretty compatible and should be able
to run all UNIX scripts.

The questioner again asserted that the MKS shell was not very compatible
and didn't do a lot of things right that are defined in the KSH language

The MPM asserted again that the shell was pretty compatible and should
work quite well.

This assertion and counter assertion went back and forth for a bit, when
another fellow member of the audience announced to the MPM that the
questioner was, in fact David Korn of AT&;T (now Lucent) Bell Labs. (David
Korn is the author of the Korn shell)

Uproarious laughter burst forth from the audience, and it was one of the
only times that I have seen a (by then pink cheeked) MPM lost for words
or momentarily lacking the usual unflappable confidence. So, what's a body
to do when Microsoft reality collides with everyone elses?


And now it's morning and I have a wedding reception at Niven's house this afternoon (for our partner Steve Barnes) so there won't be a lot today. I think I put up enough yesterday to keep most of you busy. The Yorktown Affair was revised this morning and so will be the Microsoft Monopoly discussion. Stay well.

One thing: if you have SMALL and clever clip art or gif or jpeg files that I can use to separate mail, discussions, and topics, I'd appreciate your sending me copies. SMALL please: I have a lot of things to insert, and the notion is to add a visual or two without making these files so big it takes forever to download...

Sunday Evening.


I was also send some haiku error messages. Later I was sent the source, so you can find them for yourself.


MONDAY 31 August

Just returned from a mad dogs and Englishment hike in Chatsworth with Niven, at 112 degrees F. The dog ate most of the ice cubes I had taken for cooling down. As well he might given that black fur coat. We're all fine despite five miles half uphill in that heat. I think we may not try that again in this season...

More later.


Does anyone know how screwy lines get into WORD documents, and how to get them out? I had to retype some pages in desperation because there were these lines, which I could move with the cursor (but not far) but selecting text on both sides and deleting did nothing. Worse, if I tried to cut and paste leaving them behind they CAME WITH THE TEXT ANYWAY.

I can furnish examples if needed. I tried formatting. Nothing. I turned on the hidden formatting viewer thing. Nothing to be seen. I tried changing view and that sometimes did things, but nothing let me erase those stupid lines. Here's an example with the lines in it. Translating to HTML may or may not make a different. Little else does, Here's an example:

"I can’t think of anything else."


"I mean, there’s got to be more I didn’t think of, but—"

"Better think harder, then. We’ll be leaving soon enough, and it will be a bit late then."

"All right, but I still can’t teach nuclear physics!"

"No one is asking you to teach nuclear physics," Lee said. He seemed very serious.

 (WELL THE DAMN LINES WERE IN HERE. At least I know now to paste into an html and bring back out again. Sheesh. Sorry to have bothered you.)


"Spirit, did you locate the solar panels?"

She had brought a brief case, and fished through it. "Two suppliers. Alton Solar is a little more expensive, but they have everything in stock, and they’ll deliver. You said you wanted two kilowatts of power. That turns out to be complicated. Two kilowatts when, high noon on a bright day, or late afternoon with clouds? It makes a big difference."

"Just get enough," Lee said. "I think we’ll have enough shipping for everything. If we don’t, then we don’t."

"To be sure of two kilowatts we’ll need like ten square meters of surface," Spirit said. "It’ll be expensive."

ANY HELP would be appreciated. I suspect this makes the lines far too long, and I probably ought to do something about that.

APPARENTLY they don't survive HTML. I should have thought of that before retyping. Oh well.


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