Through Sunday, September 6, 1998

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BOOK Reviews


An irregular journal of things computerish.

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For the BYTE story, click here.

Previous Weeks of The View 1  2   3  4  5  6  7   8  9

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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

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.

atom.gif (1053 bytes) David Em's Siggraph 98 Report

New David Em report.

The Word Lines Fiasco SOLVED!!!

Monday Tuesday  Wednesday Thursday  Friday Saturday  Sunday

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Tuesday, September 1, 1998

It's still overly hot here in Studio City. Worse out in Chatsworth at Niven's new house. Both the LA Dept. of Water and Power and Southern California Edison report that yesterday was a record day for both energy and water use. I guess we're supposed to conserve our way to prosperity, but how? Soaking at the beach? Perhaps we should all pack up and move to Snowmass, where we can be cool without using energy, and bug Amory Lovins while we're at it. Those who don't want to go there can head for Oregon.

If that's undesirable, then I guess we need more power plants. As to water, I have for 40 years advocated taking the outfalls of our -- excellent -- sewage treatment plants and pumping that water, which now goes into the ocean, back up to the top of the San Gabriels and letting that water run down the old watercourses, refill the water table, recharge the artesian wells, and in general make things greener and more pleasant here. It would be a lot cheaper than shipping water all the way down the San Joachim Valley and up over the passes, so that eventually a part of it gets to Los Angeles. We'd still need outside water, but we wouldn't need so much of it. Of course my plan has one problem: the water would not pass through Metler and the farm lands owned by the people who own the LA Times, so there's no possible political support for it. There are billions at stake here.

But it would work. The California Department of Public Health told me a few years ago when I was doing research into reclamation that the outfalls of the LA Hyperion treatment plant was the cleanest running stream in California, and while that may or may not be true any longer, it's certainly clean enough to put back into the headwaters of the San Gabriel river.

The LA TIMES today reports with a straight face that one of the key bits of evidence for our choosing the pharmaceutical plant in Sedan as a recipient of foreign aid delivered by Tomahawk is they didn't keep up their web site. I wish I were making this up. Let me go get the article since I don't trust myself to quote it from memory:


"US Officials said that at the time of the strike, they knew that the plant had had a 'grand opening' celebration to publicize it as a major new source of medicies for the Sedan, which has been rent by a lengthy civil war

"But the officials said they did not believe that the plant actually produced such medicines, because they saw no evidence of such an output when they accessed a Web site for it. Web sites for five other pharmaceutical plants in Sudan listed the medicines produced at those plants." (LA TIMES Sept 1 1998 page A4)

Now is this an intelligence triumph, in which tireless Web crawlers caught the Sudanese in an error? Were the Sudanese trying to pull one off and forgot to update their Web site? Would we have spared the plant (and the civilian casualties) if they HAD updated their Web site? In any event this may be the first instance in which a plant was bombed and people killed because they failed to update the Web site. I wish I were making this up.

It took longer to get the paper than I thought because I had to fill the hummingbird feeders. It used to be one lasted two weeks. Now two don't last a week, partly because the Orioles, large birds, have discovered the feeders. The hummingbirds use up a substantial part of the energy they get from the feeders trying to keep other hummingbirds away, and the aerial warfare can get intense with half a dozen and more of the little fighter planes buzzing around. The hummingbirds don't bother the orioles, though, although one oriole will consume far more of the resources than any number of the smaller birds. If the little guys would just cooperate--- Of course I want no such thing. Orioles are gorgeous.

I am still working on the Linux Box. One motherboard I had been sent for review (built into a WinChip Box complete with disk drives and everything) was DOA, and I spent a couple of days trying to revive it. It will have to be replaced entirely: recommendations for a mother board for a Linux WinChip Box welcome, especially if it's a variety on sale at Fry's.

I'm pulling all the Y2K stuff I can find from old issues of VIEW and putting them on a new Y2K page. Link when it's done.

I have a lot on the Palm Pilot, and the upgrade to Palm III should come sometime this week. I've got a big collection of software sent to me. I'm learning to use the little box regularly, and I like it a lot: this month's column will probably feature it. I can also strongly recommend the O'Reilly book on the Palm Pilot with its CDROM. This is the best way I have found to learn what the little rascal can do, and how to upgrade it. Once I get things organized here I'll cruise some Web sites to see what else it out there. All told, the Palm Pilot is a blinking miracle. I showed mine off to Niven yesterday and I suspect he'll buy one.

More in a bit.

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I'll put this here until I can get it on its own page:



By David Em

This has been the hottest August I can remember in a long time, at least out in our neck of the woods. One afternoon three weeks ago, Alex and I were keeping cool down in the depths of our air conditioned lab, discussing the book we’re writing about building an NT Graphics studio. We were coming to grips with the fact that in order to finish it, we were going to have to perform some major surgery to the existing lab setup.

One of the conclusions I’ve reluctantly come to over the last several months, is that if you really want to do professional-level multimedia with Windows NT, forget about using a single system to do the work on. This flies in the face of high end products like Softimage’s Digital Studio, a hardware and software package that attempts to deliver audio, video, 3D, you-name-it in one box.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve covered virtually every aspect of Graphics computing. That means 2D scanning (flat art, film, digital cameras), printing (desktop and HUGE prints), publishing, 3D animation, interactive and Web authoring, video editing, video post effects, displays (LCD, projection, high performance monitors), and probably anything else you can think of that makes pictures on computer screens.

All these mediums are digital, but each one works differently. For example, 2D Graphics and Video require different gamma adjustments to look right on your system, so they don’t cohabit well together. Worse, the more specialized hardware and software you load on your system, the more funny little files that do funny little things to the OS proliferate.

But what makes all this really aggravating, is that NT 4 is inherently unstable when it comes to Graphics. I accept that programs crash; but not that they repeatedly take down an OS that claims to be stable enought for mission-critical work. I can’t count the number of times I’ve managed to bluescreen NT over the last six months with Video, 3D, and 2D apps.

Anyway, we decided that the best solution for now was to network together a 2D scanning, printing, and publishing station, a 3D system, a video editing and post-processing station, and a multimedia and Web authoring station. So we did some backups, did a little surgery to beef up the disks on the video station, added our Mac dual processor 9500 to the network of four PC workstations, recabled the whole place from the bottom up, turned our Compaq 5000 Workstation into the network server, and fine tuned the whole setup. When we came up for air, a week had gone by.

Everything worked fine but the video editing apps, which kept freezing up the system every minute or two for about thirty seconds, even though they’d worked fine in the previous system they were installed in. I’ll spare the gory details, but hours of discussion with the software manufacturers, the hardware manufacturers, and several video and Microsoft NT gurus yielded nothing; no one could figure it out. On a lark, Alex set the video system to single processor mode (most of our machines use dualprocessing -- if you do any sort of Graphics, yours should to), and guess what? The editing programs worked like a charm.

But using multiprocessors to render multilayered video projects is very, very desirable, so we took the specialized video boards and relevant disks out of our Intergraph TDZ425, and put them in the Intergraph TDZ 2000 we do our 3D testing on. Once again, guess what? Everything worked like a charm. What could this mean?

The details get gorier: searching for new BIOSs, getting advice, replacing parts and pieces, swapping drives, watching NT crash. Two full weeks flew by. Finally, we wound up with the guts of the two Intergraphs switched, but no better off than we’d been two weeks earlier. For now we’ve compromised with using the single processor mode for video editing, and the dual processors for everything else. There comes a time when you just have to move on.

Why is NT so ornery that even specialists in its inner workings can’t even figure out the nature of a problem, let alone a solution? It’s almost enough to make me consider going back to Unix. The only reason I remember Unix systems ever going down was to upgrade software every six months or so.

If Microsoft doesn’t ensure that NT 5 is considerably more Multimedia and Graphics-friendly in a production environment, the creative community may very well stick it out with their Macs until OS10. And the guys who do major motion picture production and the like will just keep on keeping on with Unix.

- 30 -

ME Again:


I still have no remedy for the lines in my WORD files (topic introduced last night). The following from Ken Burnside is true:

Putting three hyphens, underscores or equals signs in a line of their own, and hitting return will have them be translated into a word "line" object from the Drawing toolbar. It’s easier to ditch them in that toolbar than in the normal one. It’s bloody impossible to turn the feature off.

Yet another example of Microsoft’s "Intellisense Technology" getting underfoot.

-- Ken Burnside

Burnside Kenneth W []

but my attempts to use this to eliminate those pesky lines have failed. There are some at the end of the text and those I did use the 'draw' feature and get rid of somewhow; but some of them are buried in the middle of the text, and move themselves around, and I can't FIND them in html. The show/hide button doesn't show anything there. Delete deletes characters above those lines. As I said, I ended up retyping two pages which wasn't quite the waste of time it might have been because those pages were only recently written and I did some rewrites. Still, I bought Ezekiel, my first Z-80 computer, just so I would never have to retype pages again, and now WORD is making me do that, and I am quite angry about it.

You would think that selecting a block of text that included the 'feature' and deleting all that would get rid of EVERYTHING selected, would you not? But it doesn't. Once those stupid lines get into your text, they are there, and they carry over when you cut or paste text close to them, and there ain't nothing you can do about it nohow, and I hate that. You'd think by now Word would have an elementary thing like "delete all selected" down pat wouldn't you?

ANYWAY it is now a solved problem:


Robert Bruce Thompson []

Yep, I remember now. All you have to do is turn off the borders and shading. Highlight the whole doc, choose Format - Borders and Shading, and then set everything to "None" in all three tabs (even if they already look to be set to None). Click OK and the weird lines should disappear.

Here's the result. (He enclosed the adjusted copy of some of my MAMELUKES text marred mit der lines I had sent him...)

Incidentally, I didn't really read the document, but what little I parsed looked really fascinating. As a working author, I suspect you may not realize how many fiction-author wannabes would love to see stuff like this...


Robert Bruce Thompson

It's about Monk's Cell time, and I also have to write the overseas BYTE column, and we are off to Dragon Con in Atlanta in two days, so it's a busy week. I don't think I'll have much up here from Thursday through Sunday. So it goes. There's a lot here you haven't read yet. Catch up on that….



I've got plenty of people advising me to buy a Newton keyboard for my Palm Pilot (soon to be a Palm III assuming the upgrade comes) but all my attempts to FIND a Newton keyboard have failed. I found one page that was supposedly a bunch of sources, but all the links were either broken or to that company itself and its phone lines were a voicemail that shunted me off to wait forever. If there were a way to order on line I didn't find it.

I'll buy one of the darned things if someone will tell me how to find one.

I tried BUYCOMP and after filling out all the stupid forms, I was told my credt card isn't valid. I called American Express in a bit of horror ro find it is fine. Since BuyComp has not the courtesy to tell me any specific information on what is wrong other than 'go back and try again" they can go to the devil. I wish I had the half hour I wasted with them back. I will have to find a store or a mail order place with a telephone to buy the silly keyboard. How a company that takes FOREVER with its fancy stuff to download anything, and forever to give you error messages of no value, can stay in business is fascinating. It confirms my theory that part of the purpose of the net is to see how many grown people can be made to stare at a screen on which nothing interesting is happening. In any event, if you know of a place other than that horror where I can buy a Newton keyboard, preferably by phone with an 800 number, I'd appreciate the advice.

On that,

Credit card parity check failures

Last time it happened to me it was because I entered the expires date as nn/nn which was the onscreen model. Expires date of course is parity check for the account number. Turned out the parity check routine required the date be entered as a straight four digit number (no slash or dash) Perfectly simple to implement parity check by dropping non-numerical or dropping the center character or whatever but that was not what was done. I was most irate that the on screen model for entry showed the slash (technically a virgule which is another confusing term French for comma not slash) and there was no way to ask them to correct the implementation - wonder if they know their hits on the secure site to successful sales ratio is.

Clark E. Myers
e-mail at:
I wouldn't Spam filter you!

It may be that. Whatever it is, it's not my job to fix things for them. And they make me spend a half hour entering stuff, then have no way for me to call to ask what is wrong. They can go to the devil.

But then Bob Thompson says:

Robert Bruce Thompson []

<<I'm also still looking for a convenient way to get a Newton keyboard>>

Why? I wouldn't take one if you gave it to me, let alone pay $100 for it. The whole point of the Pilot is that it's portable and small enough to carry anywhere. If you start loading it down with unnecessary accessories, that portability goes away and you won't be as inclined to carry it with you all the time. Any heavy keyboarding you need to do, you can do at your desktop and then sync. Graffiti works just fine for entering stuff when you're on the go. I don't consider myself to be a Graffiti "expert", but I find using it to be about as fast as ordinary printing. It's certainly good enough for entering a quick to-do, appointment, email, or whatever.

And on reflection he has a point. I almost always take my laptop on trips; if I am carrying something large wouldn't I take that? When might I USE the keyboard with the Palm Pilot? I think I want to think on this some more. I hear there are other third party keyboards also, and enough that maybe I'll just wait and see. I'm learning grafiti, and that needs ore practice anyway. I confess that O'Reilly book has a LOT about the pilot that fascinates me. I also have several software packages that came in the mail.

And I want to try Ascend again. They went nuts with features and made it nearly uninstallable a few months ago but surely by now they have fixed all that and the integration with the Pilot was quite good.

A Question:

Does anyone know how to slow down an animated gif? In particular the little exploding computer. I like it. But when you first see it, it rather liesuredly blows up, then it starts going insane with the animation. Is there something you can do in the timing of those things? I confess I was sent this as a gift, and I have not the foggiest notion of how to edit it, what tools to work with, or even if the animation speed can be changed.

And now it really is Monk's Cell time. Maybe I should put the first few chapters of Mamelukes up, so long as it's understood that I have the option of rewriting the hell out of all of it...



Wednesday, September 2, 1998

Tomorrow we are off to Atlanta for Dragon Con, so preparations plus writing will eat today. I am still working on the Linux machine. It's not that it is that hard to do, but that I have a lot to do. I got about 1200 words done on Mamelukes yesterday in addition to a lot of work here, and I'm starting the column. I had sort of wanted to have a Linux box to do the column with, but atter tag, atter tag.

Got the Official Red Hat today in addition to the MacMillan I bought at Fry's. Still need applications. If you're in an outfit that does Linux compatible apps, or know people who are, have them send me email. I can use review copies of everything.

I also have a flock of Pilot applications, and I am more and more indebted to the O'Reilly Palm Pilot book. Worth every nickel. I doubt my Pilot upgrade will get here before we leave. I'm also still looking for a convenient way to get a Newton keyboard, but I have mail from one reader with an 800 number that is supposed to do it so it's mostly sloth, and a slight reluctance to put out a hundred bucks (by the time you do shipping and handling).

I have to confess that after 20 years of never thinking about prices -- I used to tell people "it may be too expensive this year, but you can afford it next year, and two years from now you won't know how you lived without it" -- it's a new perspective to have to buy stuff. The problem for a reviewer is that you will only buy things you really have decided you want, and unless you're richer than I am, that lets out a lot of things that look "interesting". I was known in the old days as the discoverer of a lot of nifty new stuff, but the only way I could do that was to try a LOT of things, most of which you never heard of; I could never have afforded to buy all that. I must have a peach crate full of palmtop devices, none of which except for the Atari Portfolio and the old Gateway Handbook (still the best form factor briefcase machine I ever saw) were terribly useful, although a few were pretty good. I wrote about maybe half of them. The rest just got put on a shelf.

So it goes, but without a stream of new stuff around this column is going to change a lot…

I'm now going mad trying to get my Olympus Camera to download. I have no idea what is wrong. All of a sudden I can't to it. Feh. It says it is not connecting to the serial ports. There ought to be a simple device you could use to test whether a serial port is working properly, a little test lamp box or something, but I don't know what. I suppose I could connect with LapLink and see if that worked; it would test two different machines to see if their serial ports were working. I think I will try that. LapLink  Pro rides again.

There are times when I just want to go hide and write fiction. I am very weary of machines that don't work consistently. Of course this place tends to be a mine, with people borrowing things and when they come back they have been changed so they don't work. The solution to that is to stop having stuff around.

Bad cable. I found my old cable that I carried to Israel and all the files are downloading just fine. A bad cable can ruin your whole darned day!

For thoughts on whether I need a keyboard for the pilot click here.

WED Evening.

We were supposed to catch a plane today but managed not to; we will be on one tonight. Back Monday. Keep the mail coming, there will be no problem about getting it, but I am not going to be answering mail or updating this site until Monday.

Do think about : Microsoft Monopoly; Linux applications; Pilot goodies; and I will be back to edit the mail, post the best of it, and generally be on duty again. Stay well.

Sunday Night, September 6, 1998

I'm back, after a few adventures. Atlanta was nice and the people there nicer. Had dinner with publishers in The Abbey, an excellent restaurant.

I have over 100 email to look at. I'm also exhausted, and I have another 1,000 words of my regular monthly column to get done. I think I'll go to bed and work on all this in the morning. Stay tuned.



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