The View from Chaos Manor

June 8 through June 14, 1998

To go to current week, click here. View 1 2 3


 Monday, June 08, 1998: Morning. Productive evening last night as well as long walks on the beach.

If you use Windows 95, either have a lot of memory, or don't keep a lot of windows open. I tried editing web pages in Word 97 while staying on line with Netscape open. Crashed everything on Royal Armadillo, the Compaq Armada 4220T laptop I currently use. I expect it would have happened with any machine. When W 95 gets low on memory it panics, and sometimes that panic can take drastic forms. Of course memory is cheap now. Fry's has 32 megs for under $30.

Installed ZIP Magic from Mijenix because I had to deal with a number of ZIP problems. Works as advertised. I doubt it had anything to do with the crash, except that like any memory resident program it eats memory too. Royal Armadillo has 64 Megs of memory, but 'mem' displays something odd I will have to check when I get more time. At the moment I intend to spend what time I have deep in the world of 14,000 years ago just after Atlantis sank. When The Burning City is done I'll look into memory matters. Meanwhile, ZIP Magic seems to be doing its job.

Word 97: if one of you has any influence over WORD design, for Heaven's sake put in a "return to where I just was" command. I HATE it when I use the scroll bar to find exactly where I want to be in the text, then use an arrow key to scroll, and find I have been jumped back to where I was before I started using the scroll bar. And with no way to get back but to do it all again. Yes, yes, I know, the idea is so that you can go back to where you were before you started the scroll; to where you were inserting text; but ye flipping gods, this is annoying. I want to go back and read what I did last with a character. In a huge novel this can take a while to find. I find it, read, touch an arrow key, and whammo! I am back where I was working. Surely there's a way to let me keep track of both places?

Several of you have suggested I keep a couple of windows open. Sorry. When I do fiction, I want as little complexity as possible, particularly on portables. Incidentally, I got those suggestions within an hour of posting this. You people are SPEEDY!

 Evening: we've done about 4500 words in the last couple of days, turning notes into scenes, and in my case inventing new characters. Much of that is sucking it out of my fingertips, which is to say, hard work. The machines are Cyrus, the CYRIX P-166 that no longer has a Cyrix chip but rather has an Evergreen Upgrade AMD because I wanted to see what MMX would do (in fact leaving it as a Cyrix P-166 would have been plenty good enough and if I hadn't had the Evergreen chip I'd never have bothered); and Royal Armadillo, the Compaq Armada 4220T 266 mhz Compaq. Clearly we can write on both of those. We're transferring files with a pair of Zip drives, one pure SCSI on Cyrix, the other a parallel/SCSI plugged into the parallel port of Royal Armadillo.

I've also been updating the web sites, using the Compaq 56K PCMCIA modem card in Royal Armadillo. If I get too many windows open I can sort of crash Royal Armadillo, but they're pretty gentle crashes (bluescreen, but the program closes when you hit any key, and then all is well), and I've had no problems recovering. The moral of the story is that if you're really loading a W 95 system down, save early and often. Come to that, save early and often anyway…

And now to work.

Morning June 9, 1998: Still at the beach. Roberta went home yesterday. Being in a beach house with two monomaniac psychotics finishing a book is bad enough but when it rains you can't even escape to the beach. Oh well, means we can have Thai food, which Roberta won't eat.

Woke to find a hundred emails. Wow. Thanks. One of them was from Alex in answer to a reader question. Naturally it was in ascii with line ends, and it took me 20 minutes just to format the thing into the beginning of the new feature, Chaos Manor Mail which starts this morning. I know there has to be a better way. Alas, until I have some automatic system for checking, I am not about to download WORD documents from people I don't know, so asking you to send mail in that form isn't feasible. At least not yet; probably Darnell has an answer. He knows everything.

Chaos Manor Mail begins with a question about printers and scanners. Alex has some good answers. Back home we have a wonderful all in one machine that will print, scan, and mostly do faxes; it's the only machine in the house that I trust to answer a telephone since it's not networked to anything else. It's probably not suitable for volume scanning -- in truth we use the new Paperport scanners, sheet and their new flatbed, for my work -- but it's pretty neat, it does color printing in a pinch, and if it runs out of ink it stores faxes in memory. A LOT of faxes. Of course I don't have the manuals for it here and I don't have the designation right. I'll get that when I get back home. I do know it's a Panasonic, and it's trouble free. Later: it's a Panasonic UF-344 plain paper fax machine, and it has worked for about 6 months with no problems other than running out of ink cartridges: even then it held the incoming stuff in memory until we could replace the cartridge, which was available at Staples.

And we ought to be home tomorrow. There are only two scenes left to do in BURNING CITY. One is a major climax, but it's easy compared to the other, which is dealing with an expository lump that sets up the big wizards duel, and all I have is a bunch of lousy notes Niven has handed me like a bowl of cold oatmeal. But with any luck…

Afternoon: Going well, but the book is in that phase where when you add one chapter you find you need another, so that getting it done recedes as fast as you approach it. Sigh. We put a scene like that in INFERNO, taken, I confess, from something similar done by Ted Cogswell many years before.

I'll be glad to get home where I have a reliable internet connection. About half the time Earthlink reports that it can't negotiate a compatible set of protocols, and I try again, and it works. Apparently their presence in San Diego needs some work. A lot of work, actually. But then the Internet is a fiendish plot to see how many grown people can be made to watch screens on which absolutely nothing is happening.

If it sounds like I am trying to avoid the hard work of doing yet one more chapter, you're right. Now back to it…

Night, 10 PM: I just wrote THE END to BURNING CITY. There's still much to do, but Niven gets to do most of it. I have hundreds of emails, some needing real answers, all needing some kind of answer. I have another trip Thursday. But at least this is done. Feels good. Feels VERY good.

Wednesday, June 10, 1998: It wasn't a dream. The book is still done. Now to pack up and get out of here. You have no idea how messy a beach apartment can get when it is inhabited by two monomaniac psychotic writers in the full throes of creation, with no women around.

I note that this morning Jesse Berst of ZD Anchordesk must have been stuck for a topic. I know how he feels. I never had daily deadlines, but for years I was science correspondent for a weekly, and sometimes you go to the idea cupboard and it is bare, bare, bare. Berst today is telling you how to upgrade your PC. Add memory, get a larger monitor, jazz up your keyboard, get better speakers, and get a faster printer. I can't argue with any of that, but surely most of us did it long ago? Certainly I've been writing about such things for months, maybe years. But it does remind me, I probably ought to go upgrade the "what we use at Chaos Manor" section of this web site. I think I cover all those items there. If not, I should have.

Thanks to all of you who wrote to tell me you can use bookmarks to navigate around large Word documents. I know you can, but you have to have put the bookmark in, and that's what I often forget to do. Maybe what WORD should have is a little table of reserved bookmarks, say place1, place2, etc., which are the last five places to which you have moved the insertion point. Most of the time those would be trivially the last things you typed, but if you were moving around the document they'd track that. Then have macros like ctl-alt-1, 2, etc. that would jump you to those places. The whole thing couldn't take a lot more code than some of the less useful features of WORD, and it would sure make it easier for me when I'm going back looking for the name I gave some spear carrier…

Anyway, the book is done. Thanks for the congratulatory letters. And now we have to pack and clean up this place, a job slightly less formidable than writing the book.

One question. I have a copy of a Que book on Outlook 98, and I have Outlook 98. I haven't spent much time with the book and none with the program, but from the book it looks as if Outlook will do things I want done. Two questions: will it, and do I need to switch to IE 4 from Netscape to do it? Now I know, those are the kinds of questions you expect ME to answer, and never fear, I shall, but I may as well solicit advice from those who have tried it. Please, only those who have experience; I can speculate as well as you can. And of course I will try it when I get home.

And with any luck by evening I'll BE home where there are stacks and stacks of stuff that need writing about and I won't have to fake it like Berst (and I) did this morning…

Evening: I'm home, and I have to catch an airplane at 0700 tomorrow. At LAX. This means leaving at blooking dawn. I needn't have worried about enough stuff to review; there are piles and piles, much of it interesting. There are also some letters asking for equipment back. One wonders, what do I do about that? I am not going to front the money to ship it! But we'll see on all that when I get back from New York, where I have to go for a few days. Nothing computer related.

In the pile is Lernout and Hauspie's Voice Express, which is said to be even better than Dragon and IBM. We'll see. I ought to learn to dictate to a computer, but I probably won't. My habits are set pretty firmly, and I can already type about as fast as I can think. Still, speech recognition and generation are important. And who knows, this time I may really be able to do more with Roberta's reading program. It needs a good text to speech engine to convert it from the Mac to the Windows world. It sure can teach kids to read. Adults too, for that matter.

Darnell tells me he uses Outlook 98 as his mail handler, and you don't need to use IE4 with it. Other mail says it helps to convert to IE4. If I didn't have that plane to catch tomorrow I'd start finding out. I'll get to it when I come back.

I will also have to reorganize this site. It's 3500 words and more already! Much of it blather, but still, one ought not have to wade through that much to see what I am doing. Maybe by the week? I have to think this one through.

I also see a lot of games, a DVD drive, new mother boards for a 100 mhz bus Socket 7 system, memory, AMD, and Cyrix chips for same, and some disk drives I bought a while ago at a Fry's sale. I can sure make up a new machine, with pictures, and that at least I can put on a page of its own. We'll think about organization, too. And now it's dinner time.

Thursday, June 11, 1998: I'm on an airplane. United. The seats are far too narrow for any normal human. This trip is academic, and they only paid coach, and I was too busy coming back from Israel and watching BYTE fold up, and getting down to San Diego to finish BURNING CITY to upgrade. My fault. But something has to be done about these airplanes: surely there's a public health problem here? With America's best and brightest flying back and forth, mostly coach because the government only pays coach (including travel on academic grants), I'd think this a horrible waste of intellectual capital. We used to get work done on trips. Now we merely endure.

I suppose the silver lining is that if no one can work, they have more time to read science fiction.

Royal Armadillo is working well. Fortunately the man in the seat in front of me is a lawyer with a portable Dell so he doesn't have the seat back. It's still crowded, but I can manage to write. A little. Can't spread out any work of course, and if the lady in the next seat wants to move an arm it takes planning. And now the chap in the seat in front has run out of batteries. He's using the phone, but it can't be long before he decides to lean back and that will be the end. I, on the other hand, have used 25% of the battery power for Royal Armadillo, and the movie is nearly over so I've been working more than an hour.

He's telling someone on the phone that he charged up the machine all night last night, and he's unhappy about running out of power. Don't know what model of Dell it is. Never had any Dell equipment although I met the founder a few years ago. You can't look at everything in this business…

The book of the week is the Ellis Peters series about Brother Cadfael, a Welsh crusader turned Benedictine. It's worth reading the series in order: while each story is in theory independent, it's like Nero Wolfe, what has gone before is relevant to what's happening later. One thing, I would never have supposed Shrewesbury to have been the murder capital of England even during the civil war between Stephen and the Empress Mathilde. It was a fascinating period of English history. Some said God and all His Saints were asleep. Clearly Brother Cadfael doesn't think so.

I also have the Cue book on Outlook 98. Everyone tells me I have to learn Outlook.

 Friday, June 12, 1998 I'm in New York City, and I have a full day of conferences on the future of the family. Saw some old friends, met some new ones. I have a LOT of Chaos Manor Mail to deal with. But it's 7:50 AM, the meetings start at 0900, and I have yet to get breakfast.

While we were in Israel Roberta and I took the opportunity to get married again in Cana. (That's I think 4 times without a divorce…) The interesting part was this was the OLD ceremony. I promise to provide. She's supposed to obey. I suspect she has a definition of obey that would shock the Monsignor, or perhaps not; those guys have a lot more experience than you'd think. Meanwhile I've got to provide breakfast…

We're in the old Barclay across the street from the Waldorf. It's now the InterContinental, but there's a lot of the old Barclay flavor. Nice hotel. I recall that the InterContinental in Seoul had about the most helpful staff of any hotel (other than some of the Grand Hotels) I ever encountered; it seems they have carried that to their New York City branch as well, although the Barclay tradition probably didn't hurt either. One warning: the maniac who designed the bathrooms seems to believe you don't need any shelf space. For anything.

Thanks to everyone who tells me that to use Outlook you must have IE4 on your system, (Outlook shares files with it) but you need not use IE4 nor make it the default browser. I have one reader who thinks this is a Microsoft scam, but I don't see it: it's a big DLL, and what name they give a DLL isn't important. As to the disk space IE4 takes, that's about 5 bucks worth. I can afford it. I still haven't installed Outlook yet and I may hate it but I now have mail from people whose opinions I respect who use it, so it can't be all that bad. It will probably take getting used to.

My problem is that they "improved" Franklin Ascend to the point where I can't install it on older machines. That may not be as important as it used to be -- I can carry a newer machine up to the Monk's Cell where I write fiction -- but it was annoying enough that I fell out of the habit of keeping things up with Ascend. Now I find I can't live without a calendar/task list program, and if I can combine that with a mail handler and a way to sort mail into data bases, that's what I want. We'll see. Meanwhile I tend to use AskSam to sort out Internet data, but I am not as well organized as I should be. It's time to rethink, if I'm going to live on this web much of the time…

 Evening: Well, I have listened to David Wussler, former President of CBS tell me that in ten years the Internet may be as important as television, but no one really wants to use his computer that much. People have the TV on 8 hours a day and they sure don't use computers that much, he says. I wonder if he has been to a modern office since he left CBS? I certainly heard nothing to contradict what I said in my article at (Pete du Pont's web magazine, ). Everyone in the media seems to be moving at TV speed; when web speed hits them they'll really be confused. They don't really want to hear about Moore's Law, either. Oh. Well. I've said what needed to be said on that already.

I also heard today from a respected journalist that the Y2K problem is really horrible, we are all doomed, and the media are ignoring it. He recently chaired a conference where six Y2K experts confirmed that it's terrible, we're finished, and the world comes to an end, and incidentally, you ought to hire them to help mitigate the problem. Me, I think that systems that depend on old dinosaur computers are probably in big trouble, but new distributed systems won't be. A main effect of Y2K will be to cause more companies to retire their dinosaurs early. Now I don't intend to be on an airplane at the change from 1999 to 2000, and I'll keep a couple of hundred bucks in cash and a week's groceries at the Manor and fill up the cars, and I suspect I'll feel like an idiot for doing that much. Of course I would feel even more like an idiot if I needed that stuff and didn't have it. I do recommend Ed and Jennifer Yourdon's Y2K book; he's more concerned than I am, but he also has some recommendations on how to minimize the effects just in case.

We also heard Humphrey Hawksley, formerly BBC bureau chief in Peking during the Tien a Mien Square crisis and other times. The "one child" culture in China has a lot of implications. Imagine a world in which the words "brother," "sister," "aunt", "uncle," "cousin" have no real world referents, and this in a culture where the extended family has been important for centuries. Also a world in which men greatly outnumber women. Imagine it now; it won't be many years before you can see it for yourself. You can also see raids for women: at least I predicted that a few years ago. I understand it's already happening. No wonder they wanted Hong Kong. And if I were North Viet Nam I would be concerned. The Trojan War was supposed to start over woman stealing.

They also practice infanticide and selective abortion for eugenic reasons, to "preserve the purity of the Chinese Race." That's now.

Enough for tonight. I'm in New York and stupidly I left my Olympus electronic camera at home, else I could have some pictures of the conference. I won't make that mistake again.

Saturday, June 13, 1998: Going home tomorrow, and I'm not sorry. There are many people I ought to see in New York, but this isn't the time. I've been away from home too long. Niven sent me a copy of his rewrite of BURNING CITY, and I can work on that on the airplane. Ain't little computers wonderful! He's done a good job, too.

Annoying mail from someone who discovered that the plot of Hall of the Mountain King by me and Stirling was more or less that of the old Bogart movie Treasure of the Sierra Madre (which was itself derived from older themes, but leave that). I'm a bit astonished when someone believes he has made a great discovery: after all, all the plots of the Pournelle/Stirling contributions to the Man/Kzin Wars series were old Bogart movies. I like those old Bogart movies. This chap took off in high dudgeon, as if I have somehow done some harm to those fine old pictures. Wasn't me that colorized a couple of them. I doubt Bogart had any Tnuctipun, or gave the home life of the Thrintin and Kzin in his pictures, but what the hell. Anyway, fair warning to anyone who couldn't figure it out: The Children's Hour has strong parallels to Casablanca, The Asteroid Queen has some parallels to The African Queen, and Hall of the Mountain King does bear a strong similarity to parts of Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and if that is likely to upset you, don't read them. We thought we were doing an homage; it was more difficult to make these stories of war between humans and cats follow those plots than it would have been to start from scratch; but we did it. If you can't stand that notion, you have been warned.

Another letter I haven't read as closely as I should seems to take me to task for wanting the applications and games I am used to: apparently I ought to boldly go to another operating system, presumably so that I will have some influence over new applications being written for it. On reflection I decided this isn't quite as silly as it sounds: if all I did was to write computer columns, it might be a good thing to do, and beneficial to the industry in the long run. After all, I did that sort of thing back in CP/M days. Alas, I also have books to write, and other work to do, and besides, while BYTE was the only multiplatform book, the overwhelming majority of its readers used Wintel systems, and wanted to read about them. I detailed the problems they were likely to experience, often to the extreme unhappiness of some of the publishers and advertisers; what more should I have done? BYTE wasn't a specialty magazine for Linux users, it was a way to get across a broad picture of developments in the Computer Revolution: at least that's the way I saw it. And I did stay with OS/2 a lot longer than any other major writer in the industry. Didn't do a bit of good in influencing IBM of course.

Now it's a bit late, but I still hope to set up a Linux box when I get home. I have all the parts I need, and Darnell Gadberry and Joanne Dow are Linux experts who are eager to help me do it: I suspect some of their eagerness is to watch my dismay at certain problems they anticipate, but that's all right.

Now to go shopping for a present. Tomorrow is my wife's birthday.

Sunday, June 14, 1998: Dawn. Puerto Rico parade on 5th later today, and storms yesterday and last night, so we have to get out of town fast. The mail keeps pouring in, and Darnell reports a ton of activity on this web site. Thanks to all of you, and particularly thanks to those who bought Starswarm. Keep it up. I found it in the big Barnes and Noble on 5th in the "New Fiction" section. Sure would be nice if it made the best seller list…

I had intended to bring a couple of software items to play with here in New York, but I didn't. I managed to download a pile of Microsoft web tools for Office 97; no problem with download or installation, but frankly I haven't noticed any difference, except a new "check links" button: that works, and it's useful. Niven sent a copy of BURNING CITY which downloaded fine. Earthlink has worked splendidly in New York, much better than in San Diego; I have never had a rejection and only once was dropped off line. I have no complaints whatever about Earthlink's service this week. Of course that means several thousand new users, which will slow it down, which will-- Sigh.

I'm home, and all's well. I've transferred everything over here to Princess, the Compaq Professional Workstation with Dual Pentium Pro 200's.

Ghastly discovery on checking out: for reasons not clear to me, Dial up Networking doesn't update properly. The Earthlink Jerryp icon doesn't have the proper phone number in it, and I can't make it save the new one. Every time I punched the icon I got an offer to dial San Diego. I'd copy in the New York City local number, and all was well. Worse, it did have the proper San Diego phone number; and once, paying no attention to what I was doing, I told DUN to connect (having told the modem dialing properties that I was in New York and needed to dial "9," to get an outside line) and it dialed San Diego, properly, and got me logged on for about $40 bucks worth of long distance call. It's my call all right, and I can't fight with it, but I sure don't want to do that again. I'll have to investigate how to make this have the proper number as the default number to dial.

Exhausting trip, but Royal Armadillo worked well all the way: except when I got home and attached him to the network. Whatever you do, when you dock a COMPAQ Armada, shut it down first. All the way down, not to sleep mode. If you dock it in sleep mode, it may or may not realize what you have done; in my case it didn't, the network drivers got messed up, and I had to remove all network drivers, then reinstall. Didn't take long, but it was annoying. Simpler is to turn the machine off entirely, dock it, and turn it back on. Then it sees the network just fine. The same thing happens when you remove the floppy disk from the computer and replace it with, say, a battery; best turn the machine off before removing, and before restoring that drive. If you use the floppy externalizer (connects through the parallel port) there's no problem about hot swapping: connect it and the icon appears, remove and it goes away.

Interesting discovery: while you normally cannot copy a Word document that is open (you get a sharing error), you can use FTP to send an open document out to the web site. Works fine. Word does seem to get better all the time. Maybe I'm just getting used to its quirks. I sure hate it when I hit the wrong key and that silly paper clip comes zooming down to try giving me advice, I suppose I could turn it off, but in fact I don't, making me wonder if there's more of a masochistic streak in me than I thought...

As to what I'll do: Darnell wants to automate the mail handling process, and will get at that shortly. I get a lot of mail, and much of is is worth sharing. He's got plans for using a data base driven web maintenance scheme making it much easier for me to do all this. I also intend to start work on some new systems; I'll build them and put up the log here along with photographs. With luck we'll do a Linux box, and I have all the equipment needed to make a very fast "ultimate Socket 7 System". Most publishers continue to send stuff despite the BYTE collapse, so there's no lack of stuff to work on, just of time to do it, and tinkering around with this stuff is a habit hard to break.

And Happy Birthday, Roberta.

To go to TOP OF PAGE click here.

To return to current Week of VIEW Click here.