The View from Chaos Manor
June 15 through June 21, 1998
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Monday, June 15, 1998:Lots more mail. Also piles of review stuff. I ought to put together a "this came in" section. I also appreciate more what my editors at BYTE used to do, getting my column into decent shape, looking up sources, and the rest of it. I always knew Rowland Aertker was a jewel, but I hadn't quite realized just how valuable he was.
We're about to reorganize this place. We will also have contributions from Alex, Darnell, David, and Eric in their own sections. Eric will deal with games, and thoughts he has found in the fifty or so webzines he reads every day. Darnell will talk about being connected. Alex will play shortstop and general utility, and me, I'm my kids' Dad. Oops. Wrong show. Wonder if I can trot out my psychology degrees and do a radio talk show?
We will also have a moderated discussion section, but that may take a few days to set up.
Evening:I have installed OUTLOOK 98. It was both easier and harder than I thought it would be. Easier in that there are few surprises: the setup program is quite good, and while Outlook will install Internet Explorer 4, it doesn't make anymore references to it. It's just there, and if you have previously told your system that Netscape is the default browser, that's the one that will be opened if you click on a URL address inside mail in Outlook.
Moreover, unlike Netscape's mail Message Center, you can have more than one mailbox in Outlook, and it will go take care of things in all of them. At the moment I have told outlook to look for mail at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, and it gets them both, putting them into a single mail file. It will sort them for me if I want; I haven't studied all the options, but there appear to be many more than with Netscape. Darnell, who is no great Microsoft fan, uses Outlook 98 for his mail; that's a high recommendation.
I haven't yet experimented with the calendar, contact management, telephone book, and other stuff Outlook does. I did cause it to import the address book from Netscape's Message Center, and it seems to have done that without any problems at all.
One glitch: when Outlook went looking for new mail, there was in the Earthlink mailbox a big (greater than one meg) file, which was about number 22 of 27. Outlook grabbed the first 21 fine, then sat there on the big file, no fuel gauge or other progress indicator I could see, and after a while it just stopped. Things timed out, and it didn't get the other messages (22-27) at all. I closed Outlook and went to Netscape, and used that to get the messages; it took a while on the big file, but it eventually downloaded it. It may be that I need to change some settings in Outlook to deal with large files, or it may be that my network access hiccoughed at just the wrong time. I'll experiment by sending myself another big file. That has been the only problem, and the ability to get mail from both accounts without logging off and coming back on as a different user is worth a lot. More experiments needed, but I have a pretty good feeling about Outlook. One thing: get the whole Outlook 98, not Outlook 97, and not Outlook Express. Several readers and Darnell have all warned me away from those. Outlook 98 is 'free' in that you can download it from Microsoft and install it if you own any variety of Microsoft Office.
Tuesday, June 16, 1998:Outlook seems to have a lot of options; mostly you find them by experiment, but the "Office Assistant" (who looks like a jigsaw puzzle rather than a paper clip) is actually helpful if you know what you're looking for. You can customize the view. Because I am getting mail from more than one mailbox I want to know who it was addressed to, and that is not shown by default; but it turns out to be easy to find the customization commands, and I added the "To" field to the message list. Sometimes it pays to have faith.
There is also a way to set the maximum size message it will download. I haven't tested what it does with messages longer than the set length, but that shouldn't take long. (One thing about columns with deadlines, I'd have the answer before you ever saw it if this were print.)
I expect to be finding OUTLOOK options for weeks; there are a lot of them. In the morning I'll start learning how to use Outlook as my general life manager.
Afternoon:Minor annoyances with Outlook. Even when people send mail with no line feeds, it wants to word wrap and it wants to put a line ending in. I will just have to write a WORD macro. It can't be hard to do. I am also having problems finding the actual addresses people send; sometimes I want to paste them into this document, and to do that I have to be able to see them, and Outlook tries desperately to spare me those details. It's a little like our housekeeper, determined to do things its own way. Still, I'm using it rather than Netscape, which may tell more about me than either product. We'll see.
Today I got all my invoices and expense accounts off to McGraw Hill and CMP. Microsoft Excel wants to make an invoice for you; alas, it also wants to put in "shipping and handling" charges, and even includes a default amount of, I think, $7 in the Invoice template it makes. Since it's a bit much asking a company to pay me for shipping and handling on my columns and expense accounts, I tore the silly thing up and made up my own from scratch; at which point the Paper Clip Assistant in WORD kept swooping down to ask me if I wanted help. The Assistant can be useful once in a while, but I have to find a way to make that guy stay asleep until I call him. For all that, figuring my billing and expenses was a lot easier with Office 97 than when I started writing for BYTE. In those days I used Electric Pencil and a hand calculator. Later I got Sorcim SuperCalc which ran on a Televideo 910 Terminal, and printed real spread sheets onto a Diablo Daisywheel Printer. The system I did that on is now on display in the Smithsonian. And thinking about that gives me depression. BYTE is gone. It's hard to see how there will ever again be a publication like it. Farewell.
Alex reports problemswith installation of Outlook 98 on a Windows 95b (OSR2, with Active Deskop, a thoroughly maddening interface to those of us used to classic Windows) system. The install wizard crashed with an illegal function message and a reference to "(Unknown) DLL". Rebooting didn't fix it; had to uninstall Outlook; uninstall Internet Explorer; then install Outlook, which insists on installing Internet Explorer. However, IE and Outlook 98 do play fair: if you have Netscape installed as the registered browser, clicking on a URL in a mail message in Outlook will open the Netscape browser. And once the installation was done, Alex had no more problems. Fascinating: IE 4 in W 95b with active desktop conflicts with the Outlook install wizard, or did in this case.
Note this is the new install wizard, as opposed to the old manual installer: if the wizard don't work, you can't install without it, and there's nothing in the manuals or help files on what to do. The old installer was a script; this thing is an active program.
The computer in question was a Digital HiNote Notebook with 64 megs and a Pentium 233; a very thin version of my Armada. Either/Or on CDROM and floppy, not as good sound, fewer batteries; but a beautiful laptop. Bigger screen than my Armada too. Compaq owns Digital, of course.
Wednesday, June 17, 1998
I have just learned one reason why some people hate Microsoft.
Yesterday I installed Outlook. I have a lot of mail about that: some love it and some hate it. I'll put up a letter from one of its detractors in the next day or so. Anyway, I haven't made up my mind about Outlook, but I'm a lot less happy with Microsoft this afternoon.
Outlook, as I told you, installs IE4 whether you want it or not. So far so good. What I didn't know is that when IE4 does install, it goes into the registry and assigns itself the task of being the file to open for jpeg and gif files. Understand, it doesn't ask you about that, and it doesn't tell you it did that: it just does it. I know, because last night I downloaded from a friend's web site the nifty little atom bullet you see above, and today I wanted a look at it; so I opened Norton Commander for Windows, found atom.gif; double-clicked on it; and was amazed to see Internet Explorer 4 launch. Moreover, IE 4 then asked me if I wanted to assign it as my default browser. When I said no, it finished launching and just sat there: no atom.gif file on display. I suppose it was sulking.
So: launch My Computer/Views/Options/File Types, find the gif files, edit, find open in the action list, edit, browse, and try to find Photoshop which had been the default viewer for gif files. I hadn't been all that happy with Photoshop for this: it's a great program, but it does take a while to launch, and usually if I click on a gif file all I really want to do is see what the thing looks like. Word 97 in html mode does that well enough, but I was hanged if I'd give Microsoft the satisfaction after they pulled a trick like changing my registry without telling me. After some thought, I went to Equilibrium DeBabelizer as the program to launch for viewing gif files.
Then I went through my file association list to see what IE4 had done. It had done plenty. For instance, jpeg and jpg files were now associated with IE4. I changed those to DeBabalizer while I was at it. There are also some MIME and various Microsoft format files that I don't think I use which are associated with IE4; I left it that way for the moment.
But thanks a whole bunch, Microsoft. I ought to send you a bill for an hour of my time you wasted.
I suppose I can't really bill Microsoft for an hour, because much of it was used experimenting to see which viewer to use for gif and jpeg files. I found in addition to PhotoShop (and its smaller cousin PhotoDeluxe), Expression, and Paint Shop Pro. There's also a Wang Image Viewer that apparently came with NT 4, and which looks at jpegs all right, but won't touch gif files. I couldn't get Expression to open: somehow in my many experiments I have munged the installation. I played with the others and decided that all told, DeBabelizer is the right one to use here: it launches and reads big files like the Jeremy Bentham photo in my pictures section reasonably fast, and it converts from gif to jpeg and back quite well. DeBabelizer is one of those programs that used to be only for the Mac, but now is available for Wintel also. Paint Shop Pro works just about as well. I don't remember whether QuickView Plus has jpeg and gif viewers: I suspect it was the default before Microsoft caused Internet Explorer to go rampaging in my registry.
DeBabalizer loads images fast, but it takes more time to launch than I like for a simple image viewer. I'll have to reinstall Expression, because it's about time to draw maps for BURNING CITY, and I'll need it. When I do I'll see how fast it opens. I suppose the simplest thing would be to choose one image program and keep it open at all times, and maybe I'll do that.
Update: I have found something better. See the mail section on IRFAN.
I also have this neat image:
which I got off my friend's web site (It's Dog Woman from Another Planet if you must know); on hers it spins, and if I load the image into DeBabelizer I can manipulate things to show that there are a number of needle positions contained in the image; alas, I haven't figured out how to spin it, but I'll manage one of these days.
Managed quicker than I thought: viewed with Netscape it spins now. Amazing. Doesn't spin in Word, but it's sure spinning on the net... Does it spin in IE4? Stand by one and I'll look -- yes. Never used IE4 before. It's pretty fast. Wants to be the default viewer, but seems to have accepted its fate. I now have Netscape Communicator and IE 4 open at the same time, and they don't conflict. Interesting. Somewhere along the line I'll look at options.
And today arrivedSymantec VISUAL PAGE, which is supposed to be like Front Page but easier to use for those of us who keep a model of the web site on our own machines and upload to the ISP in bits and pieces. The Reviewer's Guide promises a lot; we'll see. Up to now I have to say I have been happy enough with Office 97 Word in html mode, but Darnell tells me it makes messy code that's hard to edit. May be. I'll experiment with Visual Page, and for that matter with Front Page, Dream Weaver, and if I could get Web Express to work properly I'd try that again; after all, I created the first iteration of this web site with the old version of Web Express, and I'd be using it yet if they hadn't upgraded and somehow introduced a bug that fights with my installation of NT. More on that another time.
Thursday, June 18, 1998:
There's a lot of mail, and I'll try to get the best parts up this evening. Today Niven is coming here to help with the final cleanup of The Burning City. We sent the book off to our agent, but we need to make up a submission draft in pretty print with chapter titles and a cast of characters and such like. Given what we want for the book it's the least we can do. Mr. Heinlein long ago taught me that you owe your editors the courtesy of a clean and readable manuscript, and made me buy a copy of Skillin and Gay, WORDS INTO TYPE. With luck that link will take you directly to Amazon where you can buy the book and I get a commission. Wonderful. I need to do that with Starswarm, too. Maybe later this afternoon. The important thing with Starswarm is to keep copies moving so they'll do another print run...
Anyway, we'll be bashing The Burning City into a pretty printed submission copy. I'll get to the rest of the day this evening. I've been going through the Symantec VISUAL PAGE manuals, and it all looks good; I'll install it first free hour I have. I'm still dancing as fast as I can.
This properly belongs in mail but it asks a more general question:
Sent: Thursday, June 18, 1998 4:27 PM
Your columns (and books) have always been a joy to read. I would be very much disappointed if you were unable to find some way to continue publishing both. I admit to being somewhat surprised that you do not have any contacts or acquaintances that would be interested in starting a new magazine with some of the old BYTE people. Oh, well. Hope things turn out for the best and you can continue to share your thoughts with us.
In fact, the former Publisher of BYTE tried to buy the magazine, and I gather there are some efforts at starting a new magazine. I'm interested and if someone gets a magazine that is more than a pale shadow of BYTE going I would be more so, but in fact starting a magazine is very difficult now. McGraw Hill gave us money problems, but their insulation of editorial from advertising and sales was letter perfect; a new magazine would have to work to get that reputation. Then too, many of the BYTE staff have had no problems getting offers of more money than they were making at BYTE. For that matter, neither have I. In my case, though, I'm enjoying the absence of deadlines although I am probably working harder keeping this place up than I would if I took a new (and inevitably smaller but for more money) column with someone else.
We will see. Thanks for the concern and the kind words.
I have installed Symantec Visual Page, and so far I just hate it. That may change, but right now, I don't understand what's happening.
First, it's a 'state' editor: you re in a a view mode or an editing mode, and things change a lot from one to the other. With WORD 97 things happen in a consistent way. With this, I'm typing the text in this editor, but if I want to insert a file, I can't do it; the insert options do not include that. Since this will make it impossible to to do the mail column, I'm already in trouble if I use this. I'll try help.
Nothing on inserting a file. There is a way to import a plain text file. It's complicated, involving going to a "project" state. Lord alone knows how I insert horizontal lines. My guess is it's back to WORD, which is complicated and may make lousy html code, but at least it's usable without contortions. Why Symantec couldn't just let me insert a file in edit mode, then fool with it until it looks right, is beyond me. Apparently no one there does that sort of thing? They have these perfect pages already designed?
Visual Page may be great for creating and managing whizbangs, and I'll try it when I want some, but for the text operations I do, it doesn't seem to have the basic tools. It does have an easy way to change text colors. It's slow, jiminy, the text drags slower than I can type! And this on a dual Pentium Compaq! I never had WORD 97 do that despite all the "Windoze" and "Bloatware" jokes. Well, I expected great things from Visual Page, and the manual makes it look as if I can do some startling graphics effects, but it sure ain't no text creation system. Sigh. We'll give it a fair try, but I'm a bit discouraged; indeed, I'm back in WORD 97, which is doing spelling and grammar checks on the fly, and by gollies I cannot type fast enough to make the text drag on the screen. There's a lesson in there.
What I probably ought to do is find my copy of Dreamweaver. It's got to be around here somewhere. And I think I have Front Page 98. One or another of those may solve the lousy html problem Darnell complains of, and still let me type without having a sip of coffee between words. For some words on that, as well as on Microsoft Outlook 98, click here.
Well, I don't have Front Page 98;that is, I have a Beta 2 copy from last summer, but apparently I never got (or asked for) the release version. I've asked Microsoft PR for a copy; I expect my credentials are still good. Unfortunately the "Beta, expires October 1997" notice on the CD is small and I didn't notice it, so I wasted some time installing it. Not Microsoft's fault: due in part to my diatribe of a year or so ago, they now tell you that a version will expire, at least by printing it on a disk, although their installer still doesn't check the expiration date before going ahead with installation. How hard would it be to add that? Oh, well.
I did take Visual Page off. I could put up with a lot, but not with text dragging when I type. And I seem to have lost my copy of Front Page 97, probably because I thought I had a real copy of 98 and didn't bother keeping track of it. So it goes, but this site is getting pretty complicated, and I really do need better tools than just Word. And of course I can't locate any of the several copies of Dreamweaver I've been given.
I've been looking at other sites,and I notice that many of them have what looks like a frame on each side of their text, so that it's always the same width no matter how wide the screen. I presume that's so things will look good to simple VGA monitors. Of course it also means that those with big monitors such as mine won't be able to get nice wide lines of text. I have to think that through. Since I do mostly text anyway, does it matter?
I'm also told that isn't a frame, but more likely a table. I'm still looking into how to do that and whether it's worth while.
I also found this:
which I think is pretty nifty.
The program tonight at theLos Angeles Science Fantasy Society meeting was Mark Abrahams of the Annals of Improbable Research. He used to do the back page at BYTE. You can find out more, including things you would not guess about the taxonomy of Barney the Purple Dinosaur, weird inventions people have patented, the Ig Nobel Awards for research that cannot or should not be reproduced, and other such nonsense at http://www.improb.com. Fair warning, mucking about on that site can be damaging to your sanity. It is definitely not for the humor impaired. One of the things you'll find there is a link to the debate over Alan Sokal's hoax article in Social Text. Those who take Social Text seriously are not going to like this much.
Friday, June 19, 1998:First, see the special show report from Russell Kay on its own page.
I'm hoping I can find a way to insert hyperlinks to bookmarks on other pages in this document. I did a revision to the section on default image viewers over in MAIL, but I can't figure how to do it. AHA! I did manage. See below!
Over inmail I am being advised to stay with Word 97 and use tables; and Professor Keith Irwin gives an example of a page used at his university: it looks a lot like the way I was thinking of doing mine, and it's all done with tables. I'll experiment over the weekend. And I have made a discovery that I ought to have known, but somehow missed: you can reference a page and bookmark. The code is the standard page reference followed immediately and without a space by an octothorp sometimes known as a pound sign, then the bookmark. Example is C:\my documents\web\newjep\russ.html#top, which works. I'll use it from now on. As to how I figured it out, I realized that Blankenhorn's Clue web page was doing something like that, so I looked at his code; the rest was easy. But that # sign isn't explained in any book I have, or if it is, the explanation isn't properly indexed. Sigh.
I'll play with tables over the weekend. Maybe I can get a page template format that makes things look good to readers with smaller monitors than I have while still taking advantage of better hardware. Not easy, I gather, but I've been studying some web sites.
Niven was over with a new pass through THE BURNING CITY. Our agent has her reading copy, but we have to make up a submission copy, and we're incapable of looking at things without improving them, so I have to make another pass through the last ten chapters before I can do much more playing here.
Saturday, June 20, 1998I have started playing with tables for page design. As usual the learning curve is steep enough to make me question my sanity. You can see the results here. All advice and suggestions welcome. PLEASE.
Henry Vanderbiltof the Space Access Society will be over shortly, having been out to Mojave to see the ground breaking ceremonies for Gary Hudson's Rotary Rocket company. A lot more on that including links another time; Hudson has been associated with the space council I chair since the first meeting in 1980, and is in a race with Pete Conrad (another Council Member) to develop commercial space. I'm doing an essay on that tonight for another publication. Anyway, I am donating SUPERCOW, a Gateway 2000 486 VLB Local Bus system upgraded with a Kingston PS 133 TurboChip and a bunch of Kingston Memory to Space Access. If you want to know more about the Space Access Society, send email to email@example.com and join up. I've got one of the older Fry's network cards in Supercow, who hasn't been turned on in so long that the first screen today was about updating from Daylight Savings Time. I had some fiddle problems with the network, but all's well.
Tried to upgrade with 32K Kingston memory but kept getting parity errors. It's not the chips, because I tried several, including in pairs. It may be that I was trying to insert non-parity check memory and the OS looks for parity checks. There may also be some kind of dip switch requirements. Not sure. It's Henry's problem now. The Kingston PS-133 upgrade chip worked perfectly: just drop it in. That machine has never been this fast, but more memory would probably have an even greater effect. In general, the first thing to do for Windows 95 is take a machine up to 32 megs of memory. After that it's worth putting in a faster chip.
Working on my Intellectual Capital column, and another on X projects, so not much more will happen here today.
Of course something did happen: I tried to organize the mail by cutting from the mail page and pasting into a table on a new page I had created. The result was horrible. I could see it in a Word document here, but it didn't appear on the web; and when I in a moment of madness examined the html code of the Word document, all my carefully cut and pasted text went away. I have no idea what happened. I have reconstructed the mail but my comments to that particular section are gone forever. So it goes. But now the mail on web construction is all in one place more or less.
And now I really do have to write some pay copy.
Sunday, June 21, 1998:My experiments with formatting ended in disaster: I lost all the comments I had made to the mail I cut and pasted onto a new page witha table format. I pasted into one cell of a table, I could see the text was there, I saved, and uploaded; looked on the web and that table was not there. Came back to Word, saved, looked at the HTML files. The text wasn't there.
At that point I took leave of my senses: when I exited the html view, I let the program save (which is the default). Of course that erased all the text that wasn't in the html. And by the time I figured that out, it was too late. So I have reconstructed the mail, but the comments are gone, and I'm not going to try to retrieve them. Oh. Well. And I am waiting for a copy of Front Page to try that. I am also told that Publisher does a decent job with web pages. I should try that one, too.
Finished an article on X programs and Apollo last night. Don't know if the editors like it. Tonight I have to do an Intellectual Capital, column, probably on the Microsoft mess yet once more: inviting the government in is just the last thing this industry needs. There has to be a better way out. One article I read by an economist at American Enterprise Institute says "left shoes and right shoes are not separate products, but copy machines and copy machine paper are, just as a web browser is a separate product from an operating system." If this is the kind of logic that the AEI people including Bork are using, it's no wonder we are in trouble. Shoelaces and shoes are not the same product either, but you don't usually buy shoes without laces even though laces are sold as a separate product; and in today's computer world, a computer with an OS but no web browser may be a bit more useful than shoes without laces, but not greatly so. How many will insist they be able to buy shoes without shoe laces so they can furnish their own? Peer to peer file transfer systems are separate products from an operating system, too, but I didn't hear many people complain when Microsoft incorporated networking into Windows 3.11 (and not only bundled in the software, but sold kits with Intel Ether Express cards in the bargain). This sure put a crimp into Traveling Software's LapLink sales. Where were Nader and Dole and Bork then?
I know there's a problem here. Microsoft is big, and left to itself gets arrogant and lazy, as they did with Microsoft BASIC before Phillippe Kahn, in a move that was good for all of us but bad for his Borland company, brought out Turbo BASIC and woke Microsoft from a BASIC slumber it has never fallen back into. I'm glad to see Mac coming up with viable alternatives to Microsoft OS, and I hope that a lot of the Wintel software gets ported over to the Mac; poetic justice, after all. Anyway, I have to think about all that for tonight.
And there's more on web construction over in that section.
I had a question from a reader about entry level graphics equipment, so I referred it to David Em, our artist and graphics expert. He says that Alex and he put some of that into the book they're working on, and it can be modified for the recommendations section. He also says:
"2D and Web Design Graphics are solved problems that just keep getting better. 3D animation and video remain major adventures fraught with trauma. If youre doing anything serious theyll take over your system without the slightest intention of ever giving it back."
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