September 28 - October 4, 1998


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BOOK Reviews



An irregular journal of things computerish.

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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 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

SR-2 Goes away

Trademarking Grendels

Diatribe on education

Recording Sounds: discussion begins

Meeting old friends.

Diatribe on bombs in the Balkans

Thoughts on Linux

Mpeg 3


Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday

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Monday, September 28, 1998

I'm off to hike, but I got this set up done. BE SURE TO REFRESH and OFTEN. One reader didn't refresh the home page, which sent him to the unrefreshed view page, which sent him to the unrevised view page. I have since eliminated the old view pages from the root so that they are all in the ../view/ folder on the web site. Front Page isn't perfect at all this, and sometimes recalculates links but does NOT upload the files into the new folders. Later…


FLASH: Microsoft has removed SR-2 of OFFICE from their web site. You will recall that we were NOT RECOMMENDING SR-2 at this time due to problems we had with it. Apparently others had the same difficulties.

The day was devoured by locusts, or at least the part that would have gone to this place has been. Hour on the phone with my lawyer: a game, Creatures 2, quite a neat one actually, proclaims that "Grendel is a trademark of Mindscape". Creatures used a bad guy they called a grendel in their artificial life game, and now they are trying to trademark the name. (Trying because they show "Grendel TM" rather than Grendel with a circled R; means they applied for it.) Apparently it doesn't matter. I was certainly there first with monsters people called Grendels. Hell, the book was a best-seller. Sold more copies than this game is likely to. Of course it never occurred to me to try to trademark the name, nor would I if I could; but I am damned if they are going to trademark it to keep me from using Grendels in stories, or for that matter selling grendel dolls if I blooking feel like it!

I really will get to installing Linux on this thing soon. I am mildly concerned about what hardware I have in the box, but heck, the worst that happens is it don't work. Yesterday I put an Ensonic PCI Sound card and a Bay Systems networking 10/100 card. The network card was like $24 at Fry's with 25 feet of blue level five cable. Heck, the cable is worth five buck and maybe more. The card installed with a little fuss; it was harder in Windows 98 than in 95, but in part that's because the CAB files aren't on the hard disk. I need to get them there, just to save time, but I didn't want to fill the 1 gig W 98 partition with stuff. Slowly moving up on Linux…

Talin has sent me some advice on where to find drivers. I'll keep moving along; Linux or bust.


Tuesday, September 29, 1998

I keep forgetting how few people have a classical education now. When I was in 8th grade in rural Tennessee, in a school that had 2 grades to the classroom and some 30 pupils per grade, (Capleville) with 2-year Normal School teachers rather than 4-year University graduate teachers, we read Beowulf (along with Sir Walter Scott's Lady of the Lake, a Shakespeare play, Hiawatha, Paul Revere's Ride, Ruskin's King of the Golden River, Nolan's Man Without A Country, and a lot of other then well known stories of what was then known as "English literature." In Ninth Grade we got Silas Marner, which I admit soured me on women novelists for a while, but that's another story. By then I was in a high quality school in Memphis (Christian Brothers).

So, to those who were kind enough to inform me, yes, I'm aware that Grendel was the name of a monster "in some old English story". Indeed, the name of the Hall that Grendel was ravaging was "Heorot", and our book was entitled "The Legacy of Heorot", and the sequel was called "Beowulf's Children", so we weren't really concealing anything: the settlers in the novel called the monsters that were attacking them 'grendels' because they did in fact know the story of the king who came from across the water to rescue a people not his own. Indeed, the first book ends with Cadman's second wife hoping that her husband will not have to face the dragon (in the epic, Beowulf, King of the Geats, is killed eventually by a dragon).

In Britain Legacy was a best seller. In the US, I think it reached the science fiction best seller lists, but not the NY Times list, possibly because of the title which didn't mean as much to people here as in England. Oh. Well.

But I fear the whole thing is a sad commentary on the state of education today. We in rural Tennessee used to lament the poor quality of our rural schools with their large classes, 2 grades to the room and Normal School teachers; we spent far less on those schools than is spent on any school in the country now; but every one of us could read, and by grades 7 and 8 we read some pretty good stuff, and memorized a lot of poetry (Then up spake brave Horatius, the Captain of the Gate, 'To every man upon this earth death cometh soon or late, and how can man die better, than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers and the temples of his gods!') and in general got a pretty good education. And we thought we were deprived!

Anyway, thanks to all who commented on this; but yes, we did know that Grendel at least is a name from literature. Apparently we may have been the first to use the name as a generic name for a particular monster, (and may not, it being a pretty obvious thing to do) but it never dawned on us that the legal situation is so crazy that we might be able to get a trademark on the name -- or that anyone else would try it!!

richard []

fwiw, John Gardner wrote a book titled Grendel. The book retells Beowolff from Grendel’s point of view.

I was vaguely aware of that book; of course that's Grendel again, not the use of the name 'grendel' as a generic term for a kind of monster, which I think we did first; but of course that doesn't matter, since my point is that anyone could have thought of it, and having thought of it, use it. The law is goofy if it lets you copyright classical names.


Calvin Dodge []


I presume you’ve seen


If not, then head there and take a quick look at question #22.


Calvin Dodge

I had not seen that, and thanks. Very interesting.


Wednesday, September 30, 1998

The Palm Pilot III upgrade came yesterday. Haven't had a chance to open the box, but it is here, and from other mail it should be easy enough to install. The box says there is a new operating system in it also. And I have these Pilot Island programs, some for Palm III. I don't have a modem for the Pilot but I don't contemplate using it anywhere that I don't have a laptop in the hotel room, and given the laptop I clearly prefer using that for communications.

So now I have two projects, installing Linux and upgrading the Pilot, while the work piles up for other stuff, there's a whole series of things this weekend that will eat time, and I have to pay the bills. That's what I need, more to do…


There is a problem with this organization: while the date robot updates the date on this page, the "view home" and "mail home" pages update only if I open and save them. I also have to do that with the index and default pages. Actually it won't even do it on this page unless I close and reopen. That means every day I must close and open six files every day. Index and default are different names for the same page, and it occurs to me that I ought to be able to make Front Page recalculate all those links. Even if it's only five to close and open again this isn't a lot of fun. It's compounded because Front Page only lists the last 4 files opened in its memory, and if it has a setting to change that I have not discovered it. An annoyance.

I wonder if there's some way to force the robot to update itself in Front Page Editor without closing and opening the file again? I'll have to look.

All this is temporary anyway. We are going to be redesigned and reorganized and pretty and consistent and button boxes and the whole nine yards Real Soon Now, with it all driven by a data base. I am tempted to add "and I am Marie of Rumania" but I won't. Like me, David and Darnell have their own work to do, and until this starts generating revenue, assuming it will, their work on site design has to be done in their copious free time.

Wednesday Afternoon

Roberta has been recording the sounds for her program.

The program is TLC The Literacy Connection (see for details, or there's some stuff about her program on this site also.) The DOS version required a tutor: a human, who can be anyone of any age and education as long as the tutor knows how to read, who reads the material presented on screen, both instructions and the lesson materials themselves. Since the program teaches structured phonics there's a fair amount of spoken text here.

The Mac version uses the Mac Text To Speech (TTS) capability, so no tutor is required, and it has been used with kids as young as 4 and grownups as old as 60; we don't know of anyone who has been through the whole program who did not learn to read English, and by read I mean read any word in the language including "big words" like Constantinople and Timbuktu and for that matter antidisestablishmentarianism. Some have said that the MAC TTS isn't good enough and is too mechanical. Meanwhile we haven't found a Windows TTS that sounds good enough, which is a major reason why we don't have a Windows version. So, we got the notion, record all the lessons in .wav files, and put the program out on a CD. So for the past day or two she's been down there using Sound Recorder to record each phrase. There are a lot. My notion was that she use the first few words of the text as the file name; that way, we take the Mac program, and when the program hands the phrase off to the TTS program we intercept it, use that as the file name, and return the proper wave file. That should make conversion simple.

The first lesson plus the general instructions for the program take up 49 files and 47.5 megabytes of file space. There are 75 lessons, so we are talking about at least 3 gigabytes, which is 5 CD's. There has to be a better way. I don't know what the compression ratio of wav files is, but maybe ZIP will do something here. That will mean that as each lesson loads it has to unzip itself, meaning that the user will need 50 megabytes of disk space each time he uses a lesson, and that looks like a problem too. I am no expert on sound files and sound compression, but I'd be astonished if there weren't a slightly better way to do this, including compression of the sound and on-the-fly decompression as the program calls for the sound. But we'll see. Suggestions welcome.

MORE on Sound:

Had dinner with Alex, and he's making some changes in his mother's system largely so we get better input quality. We'll use Sound Forge to edit when we're done. We will also investigate RealAudio, which works on both Mac and PC, and which claims to be able to get hours of voice on a single CD. We need to know what their licensing system is, and about distributing their player since many of the school districts that want Reading, The Literacy Connection are likely to have old equipment.

Thanks for all the help, and we'll look into all the suggestions made. I sure got a lot. I'll put up a sample of the letters in mail.

THURSDAY was devoured by locusts.


Friday, October 2, 1998

Upgraded the Palm Pilot to Palm 3. Main change so far is the letters are much easier to see. I have a flood of software to install, which I'll get at shortly. Installation is straightforward and simple, and takes under ten minutes even when you're being very careful.

This is a writer's awards weekend, and I'm involved, so I'm not getting a lot done, either in fiction of with computers. So it goes. Had dinner last night with a bunch of friend,s which is one reason to be involved in these things. They set up dinners for us to get together at…

Yoji Kondo who writes under the odd name of Eric Kotani, but is in fact a physicist of international reputation who does UV Astronomy at NASA and is probably responsible for more data per buck than any other NASA project. With Ursula his wife, who is German. They both grew up in WW II, he in Japan and she in Germany, and they're now US citizens.

Jack Williamson, who's certainly the doyen of the industry, and I hope I look that good in 20 years. Tim Powers, who writes stuff that's closer to C. S. Lewis than anyone else writing today, or so I think. And a bunch of other old friends. A good dinner. Another tonight.

I'll get at the Linux box sometime soon, really I will.

I also notice that everyone is frothing at the mouth to bomb some Serbs. Exactly why my taxes should go to pay for missiles and bombs to kill people in a country I've only seen from the air, and who have never attacked the United States and never threatened to, is not entirely clear to me. If Europe is in a mess, surely Europe can afford to do something about it? France and Britain insist they are Great Powers, but it looks to me as if they want to be Great Powers at our expense. So far as I can see there isn't an enemy in the world who could land one soldier on American soil, and while we have anonymous enemies who kill random Americans, I am not sure that dropping bombs on people with whom we are not at war is the solution to that. I know I have lost nothing in the Balkans, and if anyone over there is threatening the United States I haven't heard about it. For all that I am sure it isn't true, the movie Wag The Dog keeps coming to mind. I do wish someone would explain our interest over there.

Viet Nam I understood. That was a campaign of attrition against the USSR, and whether or not a campaign of industrial attrition against the USSR was a good idea depends on your view of the threat of International Communism, and Containment as a strategy for dealing with it. Containment was certainly bi-partisan, proposed by Democrats and continued by Republicans over decades, and had pretty wide support both as to the reality of the threat and the strategy for dealing with it. Opposition to the war in Viet Nam came as much from conscription without a declaration of war as anything else, and while my position is pretty well known, I had lots of friends on both sides of that argument. Whatever else Viet Nam was, it did fit into a fairly widely accepted grand strategy with a discernible goal, namely the dismemberment of the USSR as an international threat.

I don't see Serbia as an international threat, so I don't see what the goal of "air strikes" would be. Air strikes sounds much better than bombing, but you're still breaking things and killing people, none of whom ever threatened you. I suppose we want to right all the wrongs of the world, except maybe Tibet, and Kashmir? Enough, but I do tend to be depressed by all this talk of "air strikes" against people whose names I can't pronounce and whose country few of us can find on a map.

I'll try Linux tonight.



Saturday, October 3, 1998

Joseph Felcman []

"...I don’t see Serbia as an international threat, so I don’t see what the goal of "air strikes" would be..."


Do you really mean it?

If we don’t see something, we do not always automatically assume that it does not exist...

I’ll resist the temptation to do your chewing - in any case this kind of analysis is your area of expertise. I am sure you could come up with something better then this parody of the pre-WWII argument - unless, of course, you are intentionally trying to provoke a response.


Joseph Felcman

P.s.: Pushing this old chestnut (and far too simplistic at that) about the taxpayer dollar will not do here. Whatever the merits or otherwise "of bombing Serbs" - the United States has a role and responsibility in the world far beyond narrowly defined self-interest.

After all you as a citizen of the United States of America and I as a citizen of the Commonwealth of Australia both consume disproportionately far too much of the world’s resources to be able wash our hands of world affairs as easily as that...


The United States is not part of Europe. We're not in that hemisphere. We have twice this century decided we knew how to straighten things out in Europe. The second time was largely required because of the first, it being doubtful that Hitler would have arisen from the Europe that would have resulted in a peace of exhaustion in WW I instead of the decisive Allied victory bought with American blood and treasure. Whether dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was a good idea or not, it was certainly our doing, as was the creation of Yugoslavia. We forced the Hungarians to exile the Habsburgs, with a result that they got Horthy, who may or may not have been a better trade.

My point is that we have no great record at understanding European affairs and putting them right.

As to the "international dangers" in the Balkans, come now: WW I would not have been a Great War if all the Great Powers had not been involved in enormous alliances, so that the murder of the Crown Prince could bring on The Great War eventually involving the US and even Japan. The Great War was ended by American arms, and whatever might have happened had Wilson been better able to withstand the Allied leaders, the Peace of Versailles was a formula for disaster, neither dismembering Germany nor leaving the Germans with any sense that justice had been done. There is no such system of alliances now; no Great Powers lined up against each other, needing only a trigger event to be at each other's throats. It is precisely because there are NOT large standing armies all over Europe that they want American forces to set Europe right.

WW II began with the objectives of keeping Poland and Czechoslovakia (itself an an artifical creation) independent; when it ended both those countries, and a number of other captive nations, were doomed to occupation by the USSR. A better outcome than allowing Hitler to reshape Europe, but hardly the ideal outcome either. I don't agree with my late friend George Lundberg that American intervention in WW II was wrong, but I certainly agree that Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace doesn't seem to be working too well.

I have no idea what is the 'just' solution to the Bosnian mess. The Serbs have at least as much historic right to Kosovo as the Jews to Israel, their ancestors having been forced out of what was their historic homeland. This is not to say the Jewish Return is unjust; I do point out the similarities. In both cases the forced migrations from an historic homeland happened in the past (rather more recently in Kosovo than in Palestine), and not at the hands of the current generation at present on the land in question -- but they happened, and in both cases the current occupants resist the homecoming with all the means at their disposal. It is possible for third parties to have considerable sympathy for the common people of both sides. It's also possible for third parties to have considerable contempt for the leaders of both sides.

I have no idea what the 'just' solution is, but I'm pretty sure no one in charge in Washington does either, and I suspect I know more about the history of that region than those current running our policy, if I can judge by their public statements in the newspapers. I do know that bombing people isn't going to change their minds; more likely it will harden the determination of the survivors.

Ted Fehrenbach said it very well: you can fly over a territory, you can bomb it, you can destroy it and kill all the inhabitants, but you don't own it until you can stand a 17 year old kid with a rifle on top of it. I have no desire to stand American 17 year old kids on top of the hills of Kosovo, and I don't see how anything short of that changes things. Of course we can take the side of the Albanians and put them in charge: and who will then restrain them from carrying out the dictates of the blood feuds for which they are famous? This is the land that invented the blood feud, with grievances that go back generations. To the Christians of the Balkans the Moslems are the tax collectors, the quislings who converted so that it was not their children who were sent to the Sublime Portal as Janissaries. The fact that collecting tribute children ended more than a century ago seems not to matter. The grievances remain. To the Moslems the grievances are rather more modern, making the desire for revenge even stronger.

Talleyrand once stood with Napoleon at a parade. "See the bayonets of my troops, how they gleam!" Napoleon said.

"You can do anything with a bayonet, Sire, except sit upon it," Talleyrand said. And it remains true today. You don't own the land until you can stand a man with a bayonet on it, and when you do you may not have the tranquillity to sit down. If you doubt that, ask any Israeli army officer.

As to American responsibilities in the world, the best thing America can do for the world is be the best America we can be; defend our interests, protect our interests, yes; but no one has yet shown me how dropping bombs on people in the Balkans does that. Perhaps it is my stupidity; but I have looked in vain for any serious analysis from our government, and I find none. Yes, we have reports of atrocities, reported with all the impartial fairness for which the news services that managed to overlook the starvation in the Ukraine are so justly famous. But I can find atrocities anywhere in the world at almost any time; what I don't find is any great record of our successful intervention. Somalia, perhaps?

An American president once said that our role in the world was "We are the friends of liberty everywhere, but we are the guardians only of our own." I don't see why that has changed.

As to the relevance of all this to computers and technology: we wouldn't be contemplating intervening in the Balkans if we didn't think our new high tech weapons gave us an ability we don't have to bring about that piously nebulous goal of "peace in the Balkans." My real point is that before you begin using our high tech tools for breaking things and killing people, you have some idea of what you are trying to accmplish and some realistic path between what you are doing and your goal. Doing something because you can do it, and perhaps it is the only thing you can do, is not always a good idea

And that, I think, is enough until I open a separate discussion of political science, which is not likely to happen for a while.


Ward Gerlach []

Yes, you do have an effect on the rest of us. I’m watching your Linux Adventure with great interest.


I just tried composing this very same message in Netscape Mailbox’s editor, and got an Application Error, which then locked my machine solid, requiring a cold boot. Any decent OS shouldn’t go out to lunch because of an errant application!

On the plus side, my major apps DO run OK under Win95b - WinWord and Excel don’t give me problems. But while I "work" in WinWord and Excel, I have "fun" in my browser/email programs, and I resent the daylights out of having to cold-boot when an application goes South!

If Linux appears to be stable in your Chaotic environment, then I may migrate away from Microsoft, if the basic apps (Word processor, spreadsheet, browser, and email client) are available.


I haven't forgotten. This weekend is devoured by a writers awards thing (for new writers, I ain't getting I'm presenting), but I've got all the materials at hand now, and I'll start as soon as I have a chance.


On recording audio:

Robert Morgan []

I wasn’t going to send you a message on the subject of recording audio because I felt sure you would be deluged.

The answer to you problems is MP3. That’s Mpeg Audio Compression, Layer 3. I’ve been using it to put all my favourite audio cd’s on to my hard drive for easy listening. A full, 65 minute audio cd compresses to about 50 megs, and that’s compressed at equivalent-to-cd quality. You can compress more if you like.

The nice part is that Microsoft is on the MP3 bandwagon, and if you’ve installed Netmeeting ? or Netshow? not sure which then the MP3 decompressors were installed on your system already.

This format has taken the Internet by storm since it makes it possible to send high quality audio over relatively slow modem links.

I recommend you look at for a starting point. There are free and commercial encoders available; I bought a commercial encoder from Xing for $19.95 (

You can continue to use soundforge to capture your raw audio, then use Xing to postprocees the wav files.

Amazing. I was calculating that I could put all 200 cds I own on one 8 gig hard drive.

- Robert Morgan

Thank you. We will look into that. I haven't been following this: last I saw MP3 required programs and even hardware that weren't universal. It certainly sounds as if an MP3 version is at least one right way to go, and perhaps the universal one.

Do you know if MP3 works on a Mac? This program should work on both platforms; many schools use the current version (see Roberta's reading page for details) in schools now.

We have been considering Real Audio. I blush to say I don't know what technique they currently use for that. The player is apparently freely distributable, meaning we could include it with the program itself at no extra cost. I will look into mp3 and thank you for the details.

And more:

Divya Mahajan []

For Roberta’s program, you could look into using the MP3 format too. It retains CD quality at a cool 10 to 1 compression. The drawbacks? it takes a while to encode. But you could easily leave it as an overnight task. MP3 players exist for all platforms, and there are a lot of freeware players around. For Windows, WinAMP is the undisputed champion MP3 player.

Is it good? I’ve got 9 hours of CD quality music on a SINGLE CD. That clinches it for me. It should be the next generation for music distribution, but I guess music companies wouldn’t like it at all. It isn’t easy to copy 600MB (if you wanted to copy a CD on your disk), but 60MB is no big deal. So it gets radically easier to pirate and distribute music on the Net. (Search for MP3 download on a search engine. You’ll get a lot of sites)

IMHO comparing RealAudio’s quality to MP3 quality, would be like comparing an old scratched up phonogram to a CD.

Warm regards,

Divya Mahajan

Thanks. That answers two questions, quality and platform. Is there a low cost player that can be distributed with the program itself? For both PC and MAC? I'll find out, I guess. As to quality, we're only looking for "good enough" not concert hall quality, but of course you can't have too much fidelity if it's free. Thanks again.


<<Thanks. That answers two questions, quality and platform. Is there a low cost player that can be distributed with the program itself? For both PC and MAC? >>

Interesting how our explorations seem to run in tandem. A couple of days ago, I found something on a web site that required an MP3 decoder. There was a link to a freeware decoder, but the link was broken, so I went over to Stroud's Consumate Winsock Application List site and searched for MP3. I found that a highly rated free Microsoft program (Windows Media Player) was available that allegedly would decode any number of standards, including MP3.

I downloaded and installed it, tried to play the 2.5MB MP3 file I'd downloaded, and it blew up with a message that the format wasn't supported. Because the MS player explicitly lists MP3 as a supported format, I'm not sure what's going on. Perhaps the data file was corrupt.

At any rate, Windows Media Player is a free download that looks like it may do what you need to do on the Win platform.


Robert Bruce Thompson

Thanks. There is now enough that I have opened a new discussion page on this. See Sound.


Sunday October 4, 1998

Today I clean up some of the mess here. This mess is so wide and so deep and so tall… We worked on Joizy, Roberta's Gateway 2000 Pentium 200 system. It was one of the first of the 200's, and I hadn't noticed there's only 16 megs of memory in there. I can remember when that was plenty, but it's clearly not enough now. It's all DIMM, there being no SIMM sockets, so we'll have to go out to Fry's and find a DIMM 32 or 64. We also changed sound cards, putting the new Creative Ensonic PCI sound card in her system and her old Sound Blaster Pro ISA card into Linette. That should make life easier for Linux.

Awards party last night. Got to spend some time with Greg Benford. He lives about 40 miles from here, but we typically get together in some far distant city if at all. There's not enough time in my life.



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