THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
September 14 - 20, 1998
An irregular journal of things computerish.
For the BYTE story, click here.
A new rant by Peter Glaskowsky on NT Workstations
WARNING on SR-2 for Office
Connecting a PS/2 Mouse to a motherboard
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 14,
THIS IS A Placeholder. I have to go on errands. I'll have something here later today. The generic Pentium 133 el cheapo works splendidly. It will go to the Monk's Cell in a few minutes, and become the main writing machine. That was an EFA board, see View 14 for all the details. It has an ADAPTEC ISA SCSI controller and an elderly DEC 1 gig SCSI drive, and hold everything I need for writing. I'll pull all that and describe as "The Writing Machine" in another section Real Soon Now. Saw in Fry's today a $549 system (no monitor) that would be plenty good enough as a writer's machine, with Windows 98 which has Wordpad for those who can't manage Office 97. The price of admission to computer writing is way way down. You don't need a printer for book mss. That's what Kinko's is for.
For those who paid and sent email notice that you did, I have all your names and I am making an email mailing list; I've also got a way to check names off against receipts although so far I don't seem to have found anyone who said they'd paid and didn't. My thanks, and you will be hearing from me: it's a matter of time, of which I seem to have increasingly less, and the next chunk I have I want to get the opera pictures up, then there are the Israeli trip pictures, and the Finnish Trip pictures: ie there's a lot to do here, and I am trying to turn out at least 1000 words of fiction a day too.
Some of you have worse handwriting than mine. If you sent your email address by hand rather than electronically, and you write sloppy, you may not get any reply since my psychic powers seem to have been much diminished lately....
It's a great life if you don't weaken...
And here is a question I must deal with. It has been too much of a day to get much done here: tomorow should be better.
While Im reading with great interest your tale of building the cheapest "good enough" system possible, what Id REALLY like to see is the same goal, but for the FASTEST system possible. High performance and low price together, in other words.
Im an avid game player, the shoot em up variety like Doom2, Unreal, Forsaken. These games, in 3D SVGA mode, will suck the heart out of just about any PC system made... leaving it wheezing if not comatose. But tomorrows titles will demand even more. I cant keep ponying up full price to Dell or Gateway each time a "next generation" CPU or graphics sub-system hits the market (now about once every six months)... what to do? Id like to start building my own, but dont know quite where to start.
As you know, when you get to the upper levels of performance motherboard design and proper matching of componants becomes the difference between a truly fast system and an also ran. On a "good enough" system as long as it works youve done your job; in the search for those last 10 frames per second 3D rendering, however, just a few dollars more spent in the right place could make all the difference.
Who makes the best motherboards? What kind of memory, and how much, is necessary for top speeds? Which video cards are really capable of keeping up? And how cheaply CAN it all be put together for???
Id love to see you embark on building such a system, and Im sure there are a lot more out here like me. I hope youll give it some thought...
Good Point. I'd been planning that when BYTE folded...
This next is typical of mail from hundreds. I think I have this page on my links page, but in any event, it's a good technical data source. Good enough that I have sometimes hesitated on what I might be able to add, but I guess I do manage some value added
Earl R. Gibbs [email@example.com]
Just in case you haven't found it, a motherboard and video card technical review site is www.tomshardware.com. Tom also keeps up on the latest chipset and CPU information.
Mike Garvey [firstname.lastname@example.org]
In this weeks "View", I read Tim Loebs letter and suggest that a really good place to start gathering information for this project is:
Thomas Pabst has done a very thorough job of reviewing motherboards, chipsets, CPUs, graphic cards, and graphic chipsets. Each time I check out his site, I find out something new. Combine this information with your existing recommendations for cases, power supplies, monitors, keyboards and mice and you have the basics for any hands-on evaluation and subsequent articles you wish to do and write.
I have sent two mailings to those who have subscribed. If you paid and didn't get those, send me email. It's important than you send mail with the return address that you want mail sent to. I don't have any simple way to take an address from the body of the message and insert that into my mailing list. I can easily update so long as the electronic return address is the new one you want things sent to.
This promises to be another VERY busy day. Sigh.
And here are the details:
Office 97 Service Release 2 <http://officeupdate.microsoft.com/Articles/sr2fact.htm>
Filesize: 23576 kb Last Updated: 08-Sep-98 Est. Download Time @ 28.8: 2 hour(s) 21 min(s)
Now available for download to Microsoft Office update members, Office 97 SR-2 is a free update for Office 97, consisting of a series of recent fixes and designed to make it even easier for customers to deploy Office 97. SR-2 includes currently available downloads such as the Excel 97 for Windows Auto-Recalculation Patch.
Clark E. Myers
I have to go: but WARNING, Alex reports that at least Elsa video boards and NT, SR-2 is seriously defective, locks up the system, and is contra-indicated. I have not tried it yet, but my advice is WAIT FOR A WHILE before installing. WARNING.
I saw your posting about the latest MS Office OSR 2 patch and decided to download it. Youre right about the size. Its huge, but lucky for me I have a cable modem so the download was painless.
Before I could download OSR 2, the site said I needed to download OSR 1 and install it first. So I did. The OSR 1 install went fine. Restarted my system and all worked fine. The trouble started when I tried to install OSR 2. The key word here is tried. I kept getting an error message saying that I needed to install OSR 1 first. Puzzled by this, I then launched all the separate apps that OSR 1 was supposed to update. All the apps said that they were OSR 1. So I tried to install OSR 2 again. This time I noticed it said that Word wasnt updated, so OSR 2 couldnt be installed. As far as I know, OSR 1 wasnt supposed to update Word.
So I was wondering if you or anybody else has heard about this or has any suggestions.
The main reason for going to SR-1 in Office 97 is to fix WORD's conversion features: Word 97 doesn't do translation to and from Word 95 well until you have SR-1. So I am not sure I understand what is going on here. I repeat, I do not currently recomment SR-2 until we have had a chance to test it a bit more. Alex has some real problems with it in NT; we think that's drivers, but our systems, while high end, are not all that unusual so we want some more looks. Thanks for the report.
Microsoft claims that their latest Office 97 service release is free. Call them with the numbers on the back of the Office 97 jewel case to verify ownership and they will send you a CD.
All this mail needs to be reorganized and indexed and the rest, but I am once again dancing as fast as I can. Thanks!
Mitchell Armistead [email@example.com]
You might want to look at this site before starting your "Game Machine" project. Lots of good stuff there.
I wish Word would stop offering me the wrong date: that is, when I type in Wednesday, Word offers to finish that to the last date I typed; but of course that will be the right day but the wrong date. It's a minor annoyance, but I wouldn't mind at all if it offered me the correct date. That would save work. Oh. Well.
ON MICE: Last July Niven and I went down to the beach house to finish Burning City. Actually, it was me, Larry Niven, and Roberta Pournelle. After five days of keeping house for a pair of monomaniac psychotics in the full throes of creation she couldn't stand it and took the train home, leaving us to finish the book alone. We did, mostly by eating out and when we did eat there we ate over the sink. Even so the place began visibly to deteriorate with popcorn all over the rugs, and the sink slowly filling with dirty dishes. But finish it we did, and yesterday our agent reports a floor bid in the low six figures, which isn't all that spectacular for us -- the book did take a couple of years to finish -- but given that with the exception of INFERNO this is the oddest book either or both of us have ever done, it's a good start. This was from Simon and Schuster, who publish INFERNO, and we know that at least two other publishers want the book, so all's well.
Niven likes the Microsoft 'humpback' keyboard, and I keep one at the beach for when he's there. I also keep one of the last of the Pournelle Configuration Northgate OmniKey keyboards for when I need to do a lot of typing.
I typically carry Cyrus, the CYRIX P-166 that now has an Evergreen AMD chip in it, along with the Fujitsu 640 meg DynaMO megneto optical drive, and a SCSI Zip. I've got weary of carrying monitors down the stairs here and up the elevator there, so I have kept a ViewSonic PT-810 17" down there.
This time I forgot the mouse. I had an ancient serial mouse down there, but I've got used to using the Microsoft wheel mouse, with the scrolling wheel. I had Royal Armadillo, my Pentium 240 Armada laptop from Compaq, and when Niven and I work together at the beach I typically use the laptop and he uses Cyrus. I carry a Super Zip drive that will run as either SCSI or parallel, and run it off the Compaq's parallel port. This not only gives us a sneaker net, but makes backup copies each time we do a file transfer. Thus the mouse problem was mostly one of inconvenience for Niven, but what the heck, we had some talking to do anyway, so we set out to Staples near Hotel Circle to buy a PS/2 mouse, preferably a Microsoft wheel mouse.
Getting to Staples is an adventure in itself: it is clearly located for people who know the area better than I do. You can see if from the freeway, but by the time you do you're past the correct exit, but that's all right because the correct exit takes on you a complicated route by itself. Eventually we spiraled to Staples, and I mean that literally: we circled it at least twice.
I had forgotten just how expensive Microsoft mice are. I was offered an alternative, a Logitech First Mouse Plus, which has a wheel. Since I have a Microsoft teardrop wheel mouse here for Cyrus I didn't really want to install new software, so the simple thing would be to buy Microsoft, but given my latest cash flow situation the fact that the Logitech was half the price was attractive. I ended up buying both. The clerk assured us the Logitech First Mouse Plus would work with Microsoft software, and if it didn't, we could bring it back. "Assuming we can get here," Niven muttered. I think he wasn't too happy with my navigation. Anyway we got them.
The rest of the story is short. The Logitech First Mouse ( www.logitech.com ) works without fuss: plug it in, and the system thinks it's a Microsoft. It comes with its own software, but I confess I never bothered to install it. Niven liked the feel of the mouse so well that when we drove back to LA -- by ourselves, Roberta having fled for her life -- and stopped at Staples on the way to return the Microsoft, Niven bought a Logitech First Mouse Plus for himself, which meant I bought one to keep at his station here at Chaos Manor. The two Logitech mice cost about the same as one Microsoft. Staples gave me no problems about returning the Microsoft mouse.
Got to go to breakfast. Kensington Track Ball is next.
A number of friends I respect including editor/publisher Jim Baen have over the years recommended the Kensington Track Ball ( www.kensington.com ) as the right pointing device for wordsmiths. I confess I have got used to the Microsoft Teardrop Wheel Mouse (I believe the technical name is Intellipoint) with the scrolling feature. I also have to admit that what was in the Monk's Cell where I do most of my fiction was an ancient two-button Microsoft Dove Soap Bar mouse that was attached to Old Cow when I first set up the Cell as a writing place. It seemed to go with the Spartan conditions up there.
When I switched over from Old Cow to a new and revised Pentafluge as my Monk's Cell machine, I had to choose a mouse. The Old Cow mouse wouldn't do: it was serial, and I do intend to put a Palm Pilot cradle in the Monk's Cell since one thing I do up there is try to organize my week. Fat chance, but at least I can try. I set up machines at a workstand that has a Fry's Special El Cheapo $9.95 PS/2 mouse, and I wouldn't use that thing for writing on a bet. I don't have any PS/2 Dove Soap Bar mice, and I don't have any spare Intellipoint mice. The Logitech First Mouse Plus is on the machine Niven uses here in the Great Hall so that can't go up there.
I can buy another Microsoft or Logitech wheel mouse, but I happen to have -- I believe I paid for it -- a Kensington Track Ball, which works as either serial or PS/2 and this seemed a good opportunity to try that. Yesterday I changed over from Old Cow to the revised Pentafluge (and what a task that was! That sucker is heavy and had to go down the stairs here, across the house, and upstairs to the Cell. Wow.) I figured this was as good an opportunity as any to try the trackball, so I did.
First report is good. I certainly prefer the Kensington track ball to the Dove Soap Bar that used to be there. It's more precise and tires my hand less. The software remains the same, although I will today install the Kensington software and see if that helps. I have noticed a certain reluctance of the thing to work in the vertical as opposed to the horizontal axis; I figure a squirt of my tuner cleaner/lubricant will fix that. I did turn up the speed in the mouse section of control panel.
The Kensington mouse ball is big, massive, and unsecured: turn the thing over and it drops out, no retaining ring. It has a more precise and positive feel than the Logitech trackball; this is mostly due to the massive size of the thing. More when I know more, and choice of trackball vs. mouse is probably a religious thing, but I might get to like this. I'd like it a LOT more if there were a scrolling wheel somewhere on it. The lack of that wheel may drive me to Frys to get a Logitech First Mouse Plus. Or even a Microsoft Tear Drop Wheel, which, I have to say, I prefer to the Logitech, purely on subjective feelings. (And I start with a prejudice toward Logitech since the President is an old friend.)
ON PENTAFLUGE: the original machine was one of the first Pentium systems outside Intel. I built it from a PC Power and Cooling case, a Micronics motherboard (alas we no longer recommend Micronics, after some years of using their motherboards with great success) and one of the first Pentium chips Intel let outside the company. When the Microsoft product manager installed W 95 on it, it may have been the first Pentium that W 95 went on, 95 being developed at the time on 486 systems. Or so I am told.
Pentafluge used a DPT ISA smart SCSI board with on-board processor and 8 megs of cache, so disk ops were blazing fast for those days. The hard disk was a DEC one gigabyte, which was enormous at the time: I think the next largest system in the house was 400 megabytes. We used ATI's latest video card, and installed a Maxstor 5 1/4" glass disk (600 megabytes to the side) and the fastest SCSI CDROM which I think was 6x in those days. All told, Pentafluge was an advanced system.
He got upgraded over the years, and was the system at Larry Niven's station until quite recently. He got an Intel Overdrive, which speeded him up considerably. I killed him when I tried to insert a Kingston Pentium 200 upgrade. That upgrade uses Socket 7, which I couldn't get into the system: Pentafluge used Socket 4. Socket 4 isn't keyed: you can get the chip in the wrong orientation, and I did, and that was the end of the Intel Overdrive chip. Farewell thou good and faithful servant.
It seemed pointless to pay for a new upgrade chip for an old Socket 4 system, so when Fry's had a special on motherboard and 133 Intel Pentium chip for under a hundred bucks, I bought it. New motherboard went in easily enough, but the other boards are a tight fit. I gave up trying to make the DPT full size board work and put in an Adaptec short ISA SCSI. I replaced the SCSI CDROM (which had long been upgraded to maybe 24x) with a Hi Val 24X IDE CDROM. The Maxstor glass disk stays in the system for overflow and also safety copies of work in progress. The ATI board stayed: it was a very tight fit and touches the chip fan, but it works. The combo 5 1/4 / 3.5" floppy got replaced with an Alps (Fry's, $19.95 plus a $4 mounting kit).
I couldn't get the Creative Labs ISA sound board in there: no room. This was an older board with separate wave table daughter board and between thickness and board length there was just no way to get that board in. Instead I put in a SIIG PCI board, $29.95 on sale at Fry's; it comes with Ensonic drivers, and works just fine, no problems at all.
The PC Power and Cooling case and power supply remain, but this was pretty well jacking up the radiator and running a new car under it.
It works. It works fine. Office 97 runs fine, Infoselect 4 runs fine, Palm Pilot Desktop runs fine. The sound board tells me to stay tuned as Bevis and Butthead burn things and blow stuff up when I turn on the system. Canyon's Drag and File takes care of transferring my work to and from the parallel Zip, Norton Windows Commander substitutes for Explorer (which I hate; I like the Commander interface far better) as a file manager, and in general, Bob's me uncle. I haven't yet installed Bookshelf, but I will. I got along without it long enough that it won't hurt to go a few more days. All told, I have a writing system that is more than good enough, and I'm due to go up there in a few minutes
WE WILL be reorganizing VIEW shortly. First cut may not be noticeable. Should make indexing a LOT easier.
Going to be another busy day. Started well, with a call from our agent. The offer for BURNING CITY is up again, so I won't starve this year no matter what happens. Maybe we'll close on this pretty soon.
Have to build up the Linux machine. They tell me I ought to start with Windows 98 for reasons that aren't too clear. I'll do that simply because it's easier. I don't have a fast Win 98 machine yet. I do have a 200 mhz motherboard for a Pentium II, but I don't have the P-II chip; I've been neglecting talking to people at Intel. My fault, actually, since I have some friends pretty high up in Intel's technical departments who have always managed to get stuff for me in the past. I won't confess to sloth, though, because I really have been working hard.
I have ordered a program that is said to integrate Outlook and Palm Pilot. That would be the right way to go if it works smoothly, and I'm told that it will; we will see, and thanks to Rick Pali [firstname.lastname@example.org] for the suggestion. I still do not have my Palm III upgrade although it has now been about two weeks since I ordered it. Real Soon Now I hope. Another reader tells me that the upgrade is simple and elegant. I'm looking forward to it.
Got word indirectly that CMP is furnishing some materials to some of the BYTE overseas ops, which is why they aren't buying mine. Others are buying my syndicated column; things are still fluid on that score.
Robert Bruce Thompson suggests I have a 'home page' for VIEW and another for MAIL, and reference the current versions there; that way the book mark references will stay since the current view will have a name associated with the date and thus won't change at the end of the week. Same with mail. It will also make indexing a lot easier. I'll try to get at that this week. Today I want to do a couple of hours work on the Linux box, but the primary task is to do at least 1000 words on Mamelukes, the Janissaries sequel.
I've had a number of good comments about STARSWARM, which didn't make the Times best seller list, but did manage to make several science fiction best seller lists. I suppose that's not too bad for a hardbound with a juvenile main character. I suppose the book is technically 'a juvenile' in that I don't have anything not suitable for young people and it does have young people as the main characters. Most adults seem to like it, though, he said modestly. If you don't have your copy yet, this might be a good time to get one, he said shamelessly.
Now back to work. Pentafluge worked fine yesterday, and the Kensington Mouse 5.0 is both solid and easy to use. I do wish it had some kind of scroll wheel. Maybe they make one that does now? I'll have a look next time I'm in a computer store. It used to be I got that kind of stuff automatically, but not since BYTE folded. I'm still getting a fair number of games, and most of the important software, and I haven't been sending out letters, so I can hardly complain, and it's a bit restful not to have to deal with mountains of STUFF every week. Now, though, it looks like I may do a hardware book (the Chaos Manor Good Enough guide as a working title), and I suppose the boxes will start coming again to drive my Fedex delivery chap and the young lady who brings my mail (Postman? Postlady? Postwoman? Postgirl? I hate 'letter carrier') stark bonkers. My former postman ( a retired military sergeant) used to say that having my house on his route was a pain except when the inspectors looked at volume to determine route size
With luck another thousand words today.
If you have an AT motherboard, of the form factor "AB" as marked on the various holes in the case, the template probably won't have punches for a PS/2 mouse. My PC Power and Cooling case didn't, anyway. If there was a hold for the PS/2 mouse, it also wanted a small PS/2 connector for the keyboard. Ungood.
You can bring that mouse connection out with a jack mounted on a slot cover ($$3.95 at Fry's and interestingly it's cheaper on a slot cover than just getting the cable and connector alone; which is fine because you WANT that slot cover, as we'll see.) but who wants to use up a slot to pass a mouse out? Some cases do have extra slots, presumably for this purpose, but that depends on the motherboard. In my case the motherboard has 4 PCI slots, one dual PCI/ISA, and two ISA slots. I may well need all of them, and there are no extra slot cover areas to use for PS/2 mouse pass through.
Find an area on the case -- in my situation it was above the knockout for the parallel port connector -- to mount the PS/2 connector on. Dismount the connector from the slot cover. Now use the slot cover as a template to mark the locations for the hole for the PS/2 connector and its two mounting screws.
The connector wants a 3/8" hole. The two screws want 1/8" holes. If you have a battery powered drill you'll be a while drilling through the steel case. I always take the trouble to fire up a wall socket powered drill when I need to drill through metal. There are no socket drivers for the little nuts that hold it on, or at least I don't have any, but alligator pliers will do the trick. For that matter I don't have any socket driver that fits the little hex things that hold serial and parallel port connectors to the mother board: they're too large for my smallest socket driver and too large for the next size up. I'm sure socket tools for those exist and if I did this a lot I'd buy the right size, but in my six different socket driver sets there's not one of the proper size; and I don't do this often enough to make it a problem. Flat face alligator pliers will do the trick.
The whole job of mounting the PS/2 mouse connector on what will be the Linux machine took about ten minutes. Worth it to save the slot, I think.
So of course I got mail from a dozen of you pointing out that there are socket wrenches. Inclusing:
Mike Garvey [email@example.com]
One source for this size socket driver is Memorex:
The graphic shows the socket drivers nicely. We purchased a number of these from CostCo awhile back.
reminding me that I have had one of those kits for years, including one with my name on it. It seems to have got into a travel case I no longer use. I'll have to fish it out. I think my mind is going...
I have a letter and a note on SR-2 which I have put in above where it fits with other stuff. To see it, click here.
There is mail on html codes, validators, and such stuff. See mail, and follow that.
And I have reorganized the way VIEW works. Henceforth you'll be led through a master page where I'll put notices and such like, then to the current view page. There is also a view indexer that I'm slowly working on. After than one we will do the same with mail. It's a great life if you don't weaken.
SUNDAY, September 20, 1998
I've been working on the new combo machine: that is, it will have a 7 gig drive, and that ought to be enough to let me put in W 98 and Linux, with anything else I need just in case. I'm using an MSI motherboard with a CYRIX MX chip. The board will accommodate nearly anything I can find, but I happen to have that chip handy. I'll start with 64 megs RAM and the 7 gig IDE drive, and go on from there.
The first surprise:
There are two kinds of PS/2 Mouse connector cables to connect to a motherboard. That is, the connectors to which you attach the mouse is the same, and has 4 wires from it, but the connector to the motherboard can come in at least 2 flavors. The standard flavor (at least I've seen it more often) is two rows of four sockets, with two of the sockets on the bottom row filled in so that it can only connect to a pin set with those two pins missing. Three wires attach to the top row and one at the bottom. The P5VPX97-AT which I installed for Pentafluge's upgrade uses this flavor.
The other flavor is a single row of six pins, with pin 1 on the left. Pin 1 is VCC, brown wire; 2 is blank; 3 is ground, a red wire; 4 is CLK, orange wire; 5 is data, yellow wire; and 6 is blank again. The MSI MS-5164 motherboard uses this variety. The problem is that the board has two rows of 5 pins, all pins present, as the connector for the PS/2 Mouse, so it is in no way clear which row I put the 6-pin connector into. This is going to be interesting
And The Sony Mavica MVC-FD7 Digital Camera by Robert Bruce Thompson is now on line. I need to revise my remarks on the Olympus: the newest software is Aunt Minnie ready, and there is also a direct print capability as well as ability to project directly from Olympus Camera to a TV set.
It's Monday which means it's time to start a new page. One the other hand see MAIL: perhaps I shouldn't bother.