The first news is that Im alive.
I was driving home from Fall COMDEX in Las Vegas, and decided to drive off roads
through Death Valley on my way home. Im not sure why, but I had the Delorme GPS
satellite receiver with their software running on the Compaq Armada laptop, and it was a
good test to take it into Death Valley. Ive taken my Bronco on that desert track
The Delorme system worked wonderfully: it installed in minutes, attaching the GPS was
simple, and as I drove it kept up my position on a map it generated on screen. At first it
showed me on highways, and I could see when I was coming to a town. Then I left the
highway for a smaller paved road. Still showed on the map. Finally I left that for a
gravel track, and even that showed up on the map! Those US maps are pretty detailed, even
for Death Valley. If you do much travel in the United States, you really should get the
Delorme system and maps. That way youll never get lost. I dont know what other
countries they have maps for, but you can find out at their web site, www.delorme.com
and its worth the effort.
I didnt get lost, but I did lose a tire on a desert road, and over I went,
several times, coming to rest with the Bronco lying on the drivers side about 40
kilometers from the nearest paved road. A full description, with pictures, is at www.jerrypournelle.com/chaosreports/deathvalley.html for anyone who wants to see. Obviously I was able to walk out to a paved road.
Incidentally, while I hadnt done it before the crash, you can download the
Delorme GPS software and a local map section into your Palm III, and connect the GPS unit;
after which the Palm III will know precisely where you are. This might be great for hikes
into the High Sierra. I have gone into the mountains many times and Ive never been
lost, but there were times in snowstorms where the only way I kept from getting lost was
to stay where I was; with a GPS system I could have kept moving and still have known where
I was. On the other hand, youd have to be an idiot to try hiking in a blizzard.
Youre much safer making camp. I suspect, though, that given the litigious nature of
America the Japanese ambassador once told me there are more lawyers in Los Angeles
County than in all of Japan it wont be long before carrying the Delorme GPS
and Palm III will be required for all Scoutmasters taking boys into the mountains.
I dont go to COMDEX for the parties, but they are part of the scene, and I often
learn from them. One of the best COMDEX parties was Andy Seybolds WIRELESS party.
Seybold publishes a newsletter, Andy Seybolds OUTLOOK (www.outlook.com ),
some 26 pages a month, about mobile computing and communications, and if youre in
that business you really ought to know about it. It has the latest in whats going on
in the wireless world, both phones and computers, and the product reviews are a lot like
this column, based on actual experience.
Karen Thomas held a great dinner party, and I found myself seated with the CEO of
Polaroid. While its no news that photography is extremely popular in Japan, he notes
that small but detailed pictures are more popular there than in the US. He has a plan for
Polaroid to compete with the new digital cameras. You can get a great deal more detail on
a conventional silver halide photograph than you can with the best digital cameras: even a
small silver halide picture has the equivalent of 5 megapixels. Suppose, then, you provide
an instant develop Polaroid camera, and a small electronic scanner: now you have a hard
copy of your picture as well as an electronic, and your hard copy will have far more
detail than a printout of a digital image. Look for this product in about a year; I think
it has a great future. Ill tell you more when I know more.
For myself, I generally carry an Olympus digital camera; they have several, and all are
excellent. I dont suppose anyone has the practical experience to say which digital
cameras are "best"; I can say that both Olympus and Agfa are "good
enough", small enough to fit in a pocket, rugged enough to survive harsh conditions
my Olympus obviously survived the crash, as you will see if you go to my web site
and enough detail for reasonable size pictures and more than enough for web site
pictures. I am very fond of both, but I have to say I carry the Olumpus almost everywhere,
and the Agfa only on special trips. Both work fine, though. Digital cameras are very
convenient, especially if you carry a laptop on trips. I download all my pictures each
evening, and when necessary arrange them in albums with labels and dates and notes. You
can do that with Polaroid, of course, but those are expensive.
Olympus sells a small printer that you can attach to your camera, so that you can have
paper copies of your pictures quickly and easily. This isnt cheap, but on the other
hand you only print the ones you want, so the total cost is acceptable. Finally, Olympus
sells a package of NiMH batteries and a nickel metal hydride charger thats just
short of wonderful; you pop in the batteries at night and in the morning you have enough
juice for a hundred and more flash pictures with an Olympus camera. Im very fond of
that camera, and if you look at my crash pictures on my web site youll see why.
COMDEX seemed much smaller this year, and all my contacts say their booths had far
fewer visitors. Part of this was the economic slowdown in the Pacific; we had far fewer
Asian visitors this year than last. There were also fewer booths, and for the first time
in many years there were food service areas out in the main prime convention space area.
There were also empty spaces, and a number of big names were missing from the exhibitor
I spoke on a panel about the future of computing, and we not only had standing room
only, but the fire marshal wouldnt let anyone else, including my son, into the room;
I am told they turned away over a thousand people. All told I found COMDEX worth going to,
although I could have done without the trip home through Death Valley.
Ive been doing a lot more with Socket 7 motherboards. First, the reason my MSI
MS-5169 motherboard would not run at 100 MHz was the memory: although I bought it as
certified PC 100 memory, it wouldnt work at that speed. When I replaced that memory
DIMM with a genuine Kingston memory the MSI board ran fine at 100.
I had been running the system with the AMD K6-2 chip at 300 MHz. The mother board was
set to 66 MHz, and a multiplier of 4.5; I used the jumpers to set the system at a mother
board speed of 100 and a multiplier of 3. Just how much improvement 100/300 is over 66/300
is hard to tell; as a first approximation, I cant tell the difference. However, some
games do make use of the greater speed. The drawback is that some peripheral boards
dont like the faster bus speed and may cause problems. The memory is more expensive,
too, and a lot of memory that says it is PC 100 quality really isnt good enough. If
your board runs fine at 66 and wont run at 100, its easy to blame the video
card, but the chances are very good that you dont really have PC 100 memory. The
reason many blame the video card is that with faulty memory you dont get a video
image of any kind. You turn on the system and nothing happens. Usually, though,
thats not the video board, its the memory.
If you are going to run the mother board at 100 MHz, be sure to get premium quality
memory. I recommend Kingston, but there are other brands. You might also think whether you
need the incremental increase in speed; 66/300 is pretty fast, and you may not notice when
you change to 100/300. Of course if you want to go REALLY fast, set your mother board to
100, and get an Intel Celeron A chip; you can set the multiplier to 4.5, so that
youre running the Celeron chip at 450. You are not supposed to overclock a chip that
way, and if you do it, be sure to have a BIG cooling fan on the chip; but we havent
yet found a Celeron A that wont run at that speed, and it gives about 90% of the
performance of a Pentium II system. This can be fun, but I certainly wouldnt run any
mission critical system at those speeds. Among other things I am not sure how long the
chip will last, although again I have no indication of early failure. Celeron at 100/300,
66/300, or 100/400 is quite stable. At 300 its not as fast as the AMD K6-2 for
graphics, but its certainly good enough, and many video boards run better with Intel
chips, although I am not sure why. When you work out at the edge of technology (100/450)
you just have to go with empirical observations.
About the time I finished Eagle One (see last month), Roberta ran out of disk space on
"Joizy", her Gateway 2000 Pentium 200. She has been recording sounds in wave
table format for her reading instruction program ( www.readingtlc.com ) and those wave files take a lot of disk space.
The simple solution would be to add a new disk drive, but Joizy is just old enough that
we dont think the BIOS will work with the latest IDE Ultra drives. Another
possibility would be to put in a SCSI drive, but big SCSI drives cost a lot compared to
IDE Ultra, and I already had an eight gigabyte Seagate IDE drive, which I knew was
reliable but I wasnt sure Joizy was up to it. Testing would be difficult since
Roberta uses her machine every day. So, rather than take chances, I decided to build her a
new machine. I got an iWill XA-100 mother board, and set it up with the Seagate XXX 8
gigabyte hard drive. I have always had good success with iWill boards, and since this was
for Roberta I wanted to be sure of a reliable system.
I wanted to test the STB Velocity 4400 video board in the AGP slot, so I started with
that. It seemed to work fine. The STB 4400 is very fast and has good color balance; and
all around hot board suitable for gamers or for business.
If youre building machines you need a kit of startup disks. Mine are made by
doing format /s of a floppy on a machine running Windows 95 OSR2 (the "b"
version; earlier versions of Windows 95 cannot recognize or format FAT 32 disks). I copy
onto that disk a number of DOS utilities from the Windows 95 machine, including fdisk and
format. Then I fdisk the system to make the partitions, and format /s to put the system
onto the hard disk. It will then be in FAT 32. I also copy in the CDROM drivers for the
particular CDROM I am installing (TEAC drivers work with almost anything) and mscdex.
While Im at it I add mouse.com. Then I boot from the C: drive (it comes up in DOS)
and first thing I do is install a copy of ancient old Norton Commander 4.0 for DOS. I use
this because it makes it very easy to set things up, and the Norton Editor built into the
system lets me configure config.sys and autoexec.bat.
Now create the directory WINDOWS\OPTIONS\CABS and copy the Windows 98 CDROM into there.
Log into that subdirectory, type SETUP, and go. If you are using an "upgrade"
Windows 98 disk the system will ask you to put in the disk that qualifies you. I just drop
a Windows 95 CDROM into the CDROM drive, and use browse to tell Windows 98 setup where to
look. It takes almost no time. Warning, if you try to "qualify" from floppies,
prepare to spend about an hour inserting floppies: it wants a dozen of them and it can
take several minutes with each.
In my case the system worked fine. I downloaded the latest STB video drivers from their
web site, expanded the self extracting exe file, went to Control Panel/Display/Settings,
click Advanced, Change Display Adapter, "Have disk" and use "browse"
to point to the directory that has the updated drivers.
Do note that very few video cards ship with drivers that work. In almost every case
youll have to download new drivers before your new video card is useful; this seems
to be true with every brand of video display adapters I have tried, including ATI, Matrox,
Diamond, and STB. Of course this means that if you dont have a second computer to
chase things on the web, you have to set up in VGA mode, get your modem installed, and go
web crawling with your machine in standard VGA. Thats not convenient, but you can do
it; and I advise you to do that rather than install the drivers that came with your new
video card, even if the box says its guaranteed to work with Windows 98. In my
experience there are enough companies whose shipping drivers will crash the system as to
justify getting the updates before installation. After all, if you crash the system
its going to be even harder to download those drivers.
I had the system running nicely with the STB Velocity 4400 AGP board, but then I
installed a Creative Live! sound card; and as soon as the sound drivers were installed (I
downloaded new drivers for it off the web, too) the system began to lock up on startup, at
about the time when it should play the welcome sound. The only way out was to turn off the
machine with the power switch.
Of course that starts up Scandisk, and with an 8 gigabyte disk it takes it a while. I
had enough of that, so I went into MSDOS.SYS in the root directory. Insert the line
AutoScan = 1
and Bobs your uncle. Now it asks if you want AutoScan.
My problem sounded like an IRQ conflict, but when I would bring it up in Safe Mode I
couldnt find any problem. System Manager thought both sound and video devices were
working without conflicts. Then Id exit and restart Windows in normal mode, and it
would hang up again. I played with this for a while, then scrubbed all the sound drivers
and removed the sound card, made sure it was working again it was and
installed a Creative Ensonic PCI sound card. Same thing happened again. Finally I removed
the STB Velocity 4400 card and installed an STB Velocity 128. This worked perfectly, and
its still working. Clearly there are some driver problems with the STB Velocity 4400
and the AMD K6-2 chip. Ive reported all this to STB and the problem may be fixed by
the time you read this.
Because this is Robertas system and I dont want to take any chances, I am
operating on the "If it aint broke dont fix it" principle. While I
have no doubt that the Creative Live! sound card will work fine with the Velocity 128, (or
half a dozen other video cards) I am out of time and havent had a chance to test it.
I did note that during the brief time when I had the Creative Live! card running the sound
was awesome. This gives you quad speakers with balance, wonderful MIDI input, and a lot of
nifty software controls; I predict great things for the Creative Live! sound card, and
next month Ill have a lot more to say about it. For now, the Creative Ensonic PCI
sound card is good enough for what we want to do, and Ill keep it in the system, but
Im looking forward to the upgrade to Creative Live! after I figure out what the
conflict was. Clearly not everyone has this problem, so it may be specific to that video
board and the AMD K6-2 chip.
Next I installed a Netgear FA 310tx Fast Ethernet PCI Adapter, from Bay Networks. This
has become the standard Ethernet card at Chaos Manor. They cost under $30 and on sale less
than $20, they work at 10 or 100 Mbps, and installation is usually simple. For some reason
I had to install twice this time, but that could have been forgetfulness on my part about
configuration: I thought I had installed Microsoft NetBuei and bound it to the Netgear
card, but when I looked after the net didnt work, it wasnt there. It took
about a minute to add it and reset, after which the network was just fine, and I can fill
Robertas machine with stuff from all over my net. Networking cards are not a major
expense, and system administrators tell me that for large networks with dozens to hundreds
of work stations on the net theyve experienced clash problems with the Netgear cards
so they always specify genuine 3Com. Thats probably a wise precaution, but in my
case, with as many as 20 systems including Macintosh and printers and routers, I have
never had any problem with the Netgear cards at either 10 or 100 Mbps, and I have no
hesitation in pronouncing them good enough. Recommended.
Roberta has named the system "Scarlet" after Scarlet OHara in Gone With
the Wind: theres a scene where Scarlet says "Ill never be hungry
again!" Roberta says of her 8 gigabyte disk "Ill never fill up the disk
again!" I suspect shes wrong
Scarlet with Windows 98 starts faster than her older machine, and everything seems
crisper. I am losing my prejudices against Windows 98, and I may yet convert some of my
other machines to it. Well see.
Once I installed Windows 98, I installed Play Inc.s "Gizmos" for
Windows 98. Play ( www.play.com ) is the company that makes "Snappy", the best video capture device I
know of. Gizmos is a "skittles" program; theres nothing here you have to
have, but all the gadgets are fun, and some are very useful. For instance, theres a
Picture Explorer that makes it easy to see what electronic pictures you have in your
system, and Performer, which lets you make still picture and sound slide shows from your
picture and sound files. This is probably worth the price of the product all by itself.
There is also FreeCell, the game that originally came with the Microsoft game pack, and
still the best solitaire game I know. There is a simple encryption program, and a vault
that will let you lock files away where no one including you will be able to
find them without the pass phrase. There are calendars and alarm clocks. There is a truly
awesome series of calculators, simple, financial, and scientific; youll never need
another calculator again with this package.
All told, Plays Gizmos is a welcome addition to Windows 98, and while you
dont have to have it, I bet youll like it. Recommended.
I used fdisk to set up Scarlets disk because the job was simple: I only wanted
one big disk partition. If Id had anything more complicated to do, Id have
used the new Partition Commander from V Communications, Inc ( www.SystemCommander.com ). This program adds partitioning to the Systems Commander magic that let you
have multiple operating systems on one computer. If you experiment with computers and
operating systems, you need this bad.
Disk partitions can be set up for multiple operating systems boot your computer
in DOS, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT, or Linux but there are other good
reasons for partitioning. For example, you can create a partition for untried and shaky
software; that way no matter how crazy the program goes, it cant wipe out anything
else. You can also set up partitions to save disk space, and a special partition for the
swap file. That alone can speed up operations.
When Systems Commander came out I said it was a bloody miracle, and gave it my
Users Choice Award. Partition Commander is even better. They have been careful to
make it easy to use, and nearly fool proof. Theres a wizard to help you decide what
you want to do. It will partition drives larger than 8.4 gigabytes so that you can use
really big drives with FAT 16. It does FAT16 and FAT32, and converts from one to the
other. If you have Windows 95 OSR2 installed you can convert to FAT32 and save a whole
bunch of disk space. If you do any fooling around with your computer at all, you need this
program. Highly recommended.
There is a new edition, 4.0, of Diskkeeper, the defragmentation tool for NT. ( www.execsoft.com
)This does a few more tricks than the previous edition, and allows more automation. If you
dont have a defragmenter tool for NT, I strongly recommend you get one. Until
recently you had no choice but to get Diskeeper, which wasnt cheap, but was the only
game in town. Its still quite good, and you can be sure it will do the job.
The alternative is Golden Bows VOPT for NT 2.0. You can download that from www.goldenbow.com
and it only costs $40. Long time readers of this column know I have recommended Golden Bow
software, particularly VOPT for DOS and later for Windows, for years. In fact, VOPT has
been on my recommended list practically forever, and I can truthfully say I have never
lost a byte of data to a Golden Bow program. VOPT is considerably faster than Diskeeper
for NT. You can also get a Windows 98 version for $40, and the same version will work in
both FAT32 and FAT16 drives. Disk fragmentation can be serious, and it doesnt cost a
lot to prevent it.
You can rely on both Diskeeper and VOPT. Both are more than good enough.
One of the most important trends of the computer revolution has been development of
tools that make programming easier. The early dreams of CASE Computer Assisted
Software Engineering never worked out as well as its advocates hoped. Microsoft,
meanwhile, continued to improve the BASIC language until Visual Basic made it possible for
rank amateurs to develop highly complex programs, and many have done so. Now true: you
must develop decent programming habits, and there is a good bit to learn; but with Visual
Basic, experts in fields other than computer programming can teach computers to do
complicated things. This is a great and positive development.
Comes now Visual Basic 6.0, which isnt a dramatic improvement to Version 5, but
does continue the trend. Visual Basic 6 has improvements to the interface, a faster
compiler, and many new tools for working with data bases. In addition there are Web tools;
put them together and many new programs become possible without extensive code writing.
If youre just beginning with Visual Basic, Version 4 or 5 will be good enough and
just at the moment there are many more books and teaching tools for learning those
versions; but of course that wont last, and soon enough there will be plenty of
learning courses for Visual Basic 6. If you are interested in learning to program, your
best bet might be to find a copy of Visual Basic 4 or 5, and as many of the learning books
as are available in your local used book store, and start in; by the time you are ready
for the more advanced tools in Visual Basic 6 there will be more books and disks and
courses available for that version. But whether you start with 4, 5, or 6, you really
should look into Visual Basic; it is astonishing how many complex programs you can write
and how easy it all is. Its work, but it can be fun too; and it might lead to
something a good bit more. Theres still a demand for competent Visual Basic
programmers, particularly if they already have some other business skill and use VB to
END NOTE from Niles Software (www.niles.com) makes bibliographies, and is the best tool I know of to do this. If you do
scholarly work in English you had better become aware of this program. It will make your
notes and bibliographies in proper scholarly format format there is a list of more
than 300 bibliographic styles and the journals that use them. It will search web
bibliographies to build a data base for your book or article. It keeps track of all
bibliographic and note information, and does that painlessly.
Endnote works with all versions of Windows including NT. It works with Microsoft Word
and Word Perfect, and even AmiPro. It understands both Internet Explorer and Netscape
If you dont do scholarly work with notes and bibliographies you dont need
this program; but if you do, you cant be without it, and if you dont know
about it, go get it immediately. It will save you hundreds of hours of time if you do a
lot of formal writing. Endnote is comparatively easy to learn, and simple to use. Highly
The original Wing Commander was a wonderful game, highly advanced for its time. It was
then followed by a series of games that were more "cool" than fun to play, as if
the programmers were determined to show what they could do without much regard to what the
Early on there was a spinoff game called Privateer which used the original Wing
Commander engine and some of the original ships, but had a free form universe you could
explore until you stumbled across the story line. That was followed by an ad-on scenario
called "Righteous Fire" that was the single most enjoyable action game I have
ever played. I loved Privateer and Righteous Fire. Alas, Privateer II came out and again
it was "cool" but not much fun. For one thing, in the original Privateer if you
were outclassed you could run away to fight again another day. In the second version you
couldnt jump into hyperspace to escape; you had to stay there and kill all the
enemies, and there were a lot with more coming. Only the really die hard fanatics ever
completed Privateer II. I know I never did.
I wasnt all that happy with the various Wing Commander sequels, either, in part
because the story line wasnt anything like as good as in the original, and there was
a lot more concentration on film clips rather than role playing. The games got
increasingly harder, and they kept raising the stakes in the game.
Then came Wing Commander Prophecy. That one is fun again, almost as much fun as the
original was. The graphics are wonderful, and the missions are less impossible. Mark
Hamill is back as Commander Blair, and he does the role well. The supporting players
arent as stereotyped stupid, either. Now Wing Commander Prophecy is out in a
"Gold Edition" with "secret mission" extra scenarios, and if you like
space action games, you should like this one. Recommended.
I still wish theyd simply publish the specs for writing ad on scenarios to the
original Privateer, though. If they want to improve the graphics levels, fine, but in fact
that was about good enough; and it sure was fun. I can think of a number of stories I
could write in that universe.
I still play Starcraft, although I didnt much like having to take the role of the
Zerg. I dont like the Zerg. Recently I got RETRIBUTION, a series of scenarios for
the Starcraft game you have to own the original Starcraft for this to be useful.
Theyre quite playable. If you liked Starcraft, youll like Retribution.
Interactive Magic produced Seven Kingdoms, a game I found fascinating, with magic and
detailed medieval economics. Now they have the misnamed Knights and Merchants, which,
alas, is about as interesting as watching paint dry. If you are really into
micromanagement of a medieval village you may like this game, but I am not sure I want to
know anyone who really enjoys it. The medieval combat simulation is almost great, but it
too has some problems. You cant dig ditches or put stakes out to protect your
archers, and there are other problems; still, the real difficulty with combat in this game
is that it takes you forever to build and army.
I say the game is misnamed, because there are no merchants in the game. If there were
trade strategies, or even the possibility of trade, and protection of trade routes or
raids on the enemy to steal supplies, it would make for a better game; as it is, you build
up a village economy in excruciating detail in order to equip your army, then you go bash
away in hopes of conquering someplace to build another village that will take up most of
you time to administer.
The graphics are beautiful, and as a teaching aid to the complexities of Medieval life
this game might be pretty good, but its not, I fear, much fun as a game. Too bad,
really. Id like to see a really good medieval war game.
The movie of the month is A BUGS LIFE. This movie is so good you will have to see
it twice. The story line is typical cartoon story, but charmingly done and enjoyable; and
Pixars special effects are simply wonderful. You will really believe in those
cartoon creatures; and youll want to see the movie twice because there is no way you
will catch all the tiny details on the first viewing. This picture is better than Toy
When you do see A Bugs Life, be sure to stay for the credits. I wont spoil
the surprise: just dont leave the theater until the credits are done. Youll be
glad you waited. I give this picture an enthusiastic 95 out of 100.
The computer book of the month is Sandra Osborne,
Windows NT Registry, A Settings Reference, New Riders; one o those books that if you
don't know about it and you need it, you need it a lot. With this book and Robert Bruce
Thompson's WINDOWS NT SERVER 4.0 (O'Reilly) you can, in a pinch, be an NT
Administrator even though you don't know as much about it as you should.
A second set of computer books worth looking at are the Microsoft Press MCSE guides;
they are getting better and better, and if you fancy a career in this business and don't
expect to take a full college degree in computer science, an MCSE certificate is about the
best thing you can get.
The entertainment book of the month is Elizabeth Moon, RULES OF
ENGAGEMENT (Baen) the sequel to Once a Hero. Quite as good as the original. Fast
action, good space opera.
The game of the month is Interactive Magic (www.imagicgames.com ) Great Battles Collectors Edition. This combines the Great Battles of
Alexander, Great Battles of Hannibal, and Great Battles of Caesar with a scenario editor
so that you can pit these great generals against each other. The Imagic Great Battles
series are the best classical games simulations I know of, and are based on tabletop games
with miniatures. The rules make sense mostly and the action is fast. The
system of leader initiative is superb. If you like classical warfare or military history
you will like these games. You will also learn a lot about warfare in the classical era.
Next month its back to Linux, more about building Scarlet, and some tests to see
just what you do get from raising the motherboard speed.
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