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The January 1999 Column

Saturday, June 16, 2001

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The User’s Column

January 1999 5900 words

Jerry Pournelle

Copyright 1999 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

January 1999

Column 220

This is the month I traditionally give my Chaos Manor User’s Choice Awards for the year, and also the annual Chaos Manor Orchids and Onions Parade. It’s also a month in which a great deal happened at Chaos Manor, most of it worth reporting.


To begin: a large Chaos Manor onion to the consortium that started the lawsuits against Microsoft. They know they won’t win, and it was all cynically done, a massive ploy to distract Microsoft and put them off stride. Ralph Nader and Bob Dole probably don’t know any better, but you would expect that Robert Bork would. They’re all contributing to taking resources from product development and putting them into the black hole of lawsuits and courts. Nothing good will come of this, and the worst of it is that everyone involved knows it. One consolation: Netscape/America on Line is very nearly as much a monopoly as they accuse Microsoft of being…

A large orchid to Steve Jobs for turning Apple around. Eric says he’s the world’s most valuable temp. He has certainly made Apple a major player in the computer game, a viable alternative to the Microsoft/Intel world, and the increased competition is very good for the rest of us. Congratulations. The momentum continues, too: At MacWorld this week, they announced faster and less expensive iMacs (in "flavors", no less) and more capable G3 desktops. Apple/iMac has been a great force behind USB and Firewire, and that too is all to the good. Hurrah for Jobs.

Another orchid for the Iridium consortium. I only wish I’d had an Iridium phone in the desert. Mr. Heinlein had pocket telephones with world wide connections in the novel BETWEEN PLANETS back in about 1948; now they’re a reality. We can only hope the Iridium consortium will be foresighted enough to hire private rocket companies for some of their launch services. That would really change the world, making access to space affordable for the rest of us.

This is a year of requiems. Farewell to BYTE United States, but at least BYTE lives on in the overseas publications. Farewell to modem pioneer D.C. Hayes Company; Hayes compatible modems will now be like Centronics printer cables, a standard without a product. CalComp finally succumbed, after years of being the standard source for big plotters. We’ll all miss SyQuest, who pioneered removable mass storage technologies, and who were honoring their warranties up to a week before the company closed its doors. Farewell indeed: I liked their drives a lot.

Farewell to NT, which is to be absorbed into Windows 2000. We won’t miss NT as much as NorTel does: they got a small but real royalty on every NT license sold because they had a trademark in the NT product name before Microsoft began using it.

One thing we won’t miss is Push Technology in browsers, which is vanishing and good riddance. Despite major hype including a cover from Wired Magazine, PUSH and the Internet Explorer Channel Bar are vanishing without a trace, and not a minute too soon. Have an onion to accompany you wherever you’re going…

The Chaos Manor User’s Choice for hardware Product of the Year goes to AMD for their AMD K6-2 3D Now! chip. This works as advertised. It’s fast, it’s low cost, and it works. This is the first extension of the X-86 standard from outside Intel to get strong developer support. We can hope for similar success with the K-7. (If you have a K6-2/350 or faster, make sure you download the Win95 timing patch; Win98 doesn’t need it, but 95 does.)

A genetically engineered orchid/onion for the original Intel Celeron for wasting everyone’s time on a processor without L2 cache. A Chaos Manor Good Enough goes to Intel for the Celeron-A, a good all around processor that can be overclocked up to 450 MHz for those bold enough to try it. As I write this, Celeron-A’s are up to 400 MHz without overclocking, gloriously excessive for most users.

Intel remains the major source of new chips, but AMD, IDT/WinChip and Cyrix are forging ahead, keeping the industry honest.

We used a lot of motherboards this year; the one that stood out at Chaos Manor was iWill. They’re well made, the BIOS works smoothly, and while most of the documentation is on a CDROM (meaning that you need a working computer in order to read the documents) there is enough paper documentation to get you up and running. Recommended.

If you’re making new systems, use a PC Power and Cooling case and power supply. We’ve used other and cheaper brands, but by the time I add exhaust fans and fool around with other modifications I always wish I had a genuine PC Cool system. If you’re building your own system it makes little sense to save a few dollars on the case: get genuine PC Power and Cooling and have one less thing to worry about.

Operating Systems: if you’re into experimentation, try Red Hat Linux; but be warned, there is nothing simple or trivial about installation. You can buy Linux systems – Corel has pre-installed Linux boxes – but if you are building your own system you’ll get plenty of challenges before you get Linux working properly. Fortunately there is a ton of help available. Alas, it’s all on line, meaning that before you start work on Linux you’ll need a system to surf the net with.

The rewards can be considerable, but do recall that the way to tell who the pioneers are is to notice the arrows in their backs…

If you’re starting a new system from scratch, you may as well install Windows 98; but if you have Windows 95b, also known as OSR2, I’d think hard before "upgrading" to Win 98. OSR2 has just about all the features that 98 has, and seems to have fewer bugs, particularly in the power management software. If you have OSR2 and it’s working properly, it’s probably wise to remember that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…

We don’t have a PC System of the Year award this year, because there are so many "Good Enough" systems, and your choice depends on what it is you want to do. For general purpose computing systems it’s very hard to beat Compaq’s low cost line. I know a number of small businesses and charitable organizations that operate with Compaq Presario systems, and I have uniformly good reports. Compaq also makes good higher end systems. I do most of my work on Princess, a Compaq Dual Pentium Pro/200 Professional Workstation 5000 (system of the year last year, now rather slow by today’s standards), and I sure have no complaints. However, if your work involves graphics, you have to look at the Intergraph line. Both Intergraph and Compaq get the Chaos Manor "Good Enough" approval; I can’t think you’ll be unhappy with either, and both are competitively priced. I’ve recommended both to friends including my publishers, and I get nothing but thanks.

The Chaos Manor User’s Choice for Laptops goes to the Compaq Armada line, but do note that these aren’t really laptops: that is, you can use them on airplanes, and I do. The battery life is excellent, and the performance is more than good enough. They’re rugged – one of them survived my great Death Valley crash well enough that I was able to recover all the files from it. (The screen was half illegible, hardly surprising after being forcibly ejected to the desert floor…) I carried the Armada 4220T throughout the year, to Spain and Israel and many computer shows, and I was able to write thousands of words while on the road. Alex lugged it to CeBIT, the big German computer show, where he produced the BYTE Best of Show awards with it, too. What I wouldn’t do with one is carry it around: the Armada line is heavy, and even if you remove the bottom section that contains the CD-ROM drive, docking interface, high quality sound, and another battery, the top half remains pretty heavy compared to the lighter ThinkPads. (To be fair, there’s also a battery/handle, the third battery, which also adds weight, but I don’t get enough exercise as it is.) If what you need is a lightweight portable to take to meetings and such, the Armada probably isn’t what you need. For me, though, the heavy construction is an advantage since I pound on these things pretty hard. I can have almost any portable I want, and I like the Armada for the work I do. Recommended.

The Chaos Manor User’s Choice for software Product of the Year is hands down the Linux operating system. The whole Open Source Software movement is a healthy development for the industry. A Chaos Manor Good Enough goes to Red Hat for their Linux 5.2, and a large Orchid goes to Corel for their support of Linux. I suspect the Corel Linux box would be getting an award if I had one at year’s end; in any event Corel’s efforts to integrate their Word Perfect Office Suite with the Linux Operating System will have a great impact on our industry. Watch for the Corel Linux boxes; you’ll love their server.

Having said that, the User’s Choice Award for Applications Software goes to the Service Release-1 (Not SR-2) version of Microsoft Office 97, and my choice of mail handling software goes to Outlook 98 as integrated into Office 97. Linux and Word Perfect are a good combination, and I expect to see a number of positive developments. I am very glad they are out there; but for getting my work done, it’s really hard to beat Microsoft Word as integrated into Office 97.

A couple of years ago I was unhappy with Office 97 for two reasons: bugs, and I thought of it as bloatware, given its several hundred megabyte size. However, the Service Release One upgrade to Office 97 fixed all the really awful bugs. An SR-2 patch is available and worth downloading, but it’s not vital the way SR-1 was. Also, be warned: its current incarnation has been difficult to install and has caused many headaches for its users. Most of the important fixes are in SR-1 anyway.

As to the massive size of Office 97, that hasn’t got smaller, but we now have cheap disk drives. Storage space is well under $25 a gigabyte; Office 97 takes up maybe ten dollars worth of disk space, hardly significant or worth worrying about.

In fact, there’s an irony here: it’s nearly impossible to buy drives smaller than 4 gigabytes, and I understand that as of now no one makes drives smaller than 6 gigs. Some older systems still run 486 chips and DOS, and do everything they are supposed to do. When their 100 megabyte drives wear out, what is the MIS to do? Most of them won’t recognize large disk drives. The practical solution is to use a large drive anyway, despite the aesthetic offense of formatting a 6 gigabyte drive to 250 megabytes.


Number Nine has made significant advances in video processing technology for the masses, and gets the User’s Choice Award in Video Boards for the rest of us. I’ve found Number Nine products, like the current Revolution-IV, work very well for the kind of work most of us do. Plus, their 1600SW LCD panel, available for PCs and Macs now, venture with SGI is Neat Stuff; it’s one of the very first LCDs which are actually giving King CRT real competition.

At the very high end, though, the User’s Choice Award goes to Intergraph. Their Wildcat 3D accelerator card is a quantum leap for desktop 3D, challenging SGI graphics workstations at a fraction of the cost. Intergraph continues to push the envelope in price/performance high-end graphics, and we should all be grateful. We expect another order of magnitude improvement in 3D performance and speed by the year 2000, and Intergraph will deserve the credit for getting it to us at low cost.

I generally leave the choice of high-end graphics hardware and software to David Em, who does the kind of work which requires that kind of performance. David’s choice in software this year goes to Kinetix Character Studio 2, a $1500 plug-in for 3D Studio Max that lets you bind 3D "skeletons" to models, and make them jump, dance, and do backflips. You can import and modify motion-capture files, or do it yourself by laying a series of footsteps on the "ground." A Chaos Manor User’s Choice to Kinetix, which now moves into the character animation major leagues.

David also reminds us not to overlook Apple’s QuickTime 3 Pro, which at $29.95 is one of the big bargains of the year. (QuickTime 3, not Pro, is built into Internet Explorer 4 and Windows 98.) David says "QuickTime 3 deals with a variety of video issues intelligently, and now that it’s cross-platform Internet streaming-aware, and understood by most of the major video editing, 3D editing, and video post-production applications, stands a good chance of becoming a standard container for video information that must be moved from one place to another.

"Play’s $149 realtime standalone 3D modeling program Amorphium is the closest analog to modeling clay with a computer that I’ve used yet. Models can be imported and exported to other 3D programs. Its software rendering engine is so good, you don't need a 3D card; I ran it fine on a Pentium/200. Unlike other 3D modelers, the learning curve is near zero. Amorphium is so good, it makes up for what a hassle it is to get Play's Gizmos product off your system. It’s available for both Windows and Macintosh systems."

Readers will note that David wasn’t as happy with Play’s Gizmos as I was when it first came out. Both David and Eric had some real problems with Gizmos for Windows 98. I haven’t, so far, with the possible exception of some difficulties with power management software on an AMD K6-2 3D Now! system. Uninstalling Gizmos requires the original installation disk and is still pretty complicated: they didn’t really intend for you to take it off once you put it on. I still find Gizmos worth having, and the presentation software package in Gizmos is spectacularly useful, but David and Eric aren’t the only people I’ve heard complain about it; install Gizmos with caution, and be sure to keep the installation disks or you’ll never get it off your system. And whatever you do, be careful about using the Gizmos screen savers.

Continuing with David’s recommendations, "ACID Pro from Sound Forge is a $399 sound loop mixing system that is the most fun I've had with a keyboard in a long time. It's also a very useful tool if you need original license-free soundtracks for video productions. ACID automatically matches the tempo and key of loops in real time. In addition to the base product, you can get specialized sound loop libraries such as Rock, Dance etc., for $59.95. This is for Windows only, at least so far."

A small but well-polished Orchid to Terran Interactive for Media Cleaner Pro and its associated Sorenson codec, probably the best low-bit-rate movie player. The Sorenson playback codec is built into QuickTime 3, so most people have it, too; one of those well-kept secrets.

Terran has yet to release Media Cleaner for Windows, but that hasn’t slowed its acceptance as a playback method for PCs and Macs alike. It’s also helped make the Mac more essential.

We’ve used many brands of monitors at Chaos Manor, but we’re pretty well settled in to three: the best all around monitors are ViewSonic, which have good crisp line edges and are great with text, very easy on the eyes when you stare at a screen all day. Eizo/Nanao monitors cost considerably more but are worth it if you need really good color fidelity. Finally, Nokia makes a line of monitors intermediate in both price and performance between ViewSonic and Nanao. One bit of practical advice: get the largest monitor you can afford. Once you have used a 21" or larger monitor, you will wonder how you ever got along with anything smaller.


I traditionally have one Game of the Year, which is silly, because usually there is more than one deserving of honors. If you count number of hours wasted spent playing, Total Annihilation and its various add-on packages wins hands down. It’s a great way to waste time, just hard enough to give the "illusion of losability" while letting you romp through the enemy; but that’s not actually the award I want to give. I played that game so much that the CD became worn. The game plays music, and the sound track would often be stuck. I washed the CD, and that helped a little, but then I got out The Allsop Multimedia Lens Cleaner (Box 23, Bellingham WA 98227 800-426-4303) which not only has a lens cleaner, but also runs a program to ensure that the lens is being cleaned. It worked. Now the sound plays just fine. Recommended.

A large Chaor Manor orchid to Diamond Multimedia, for their Rio portable MP3 audio player. This isn't the first product of its kind to be sold but it is the first to receive wide distribution and thus the target of litigation by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), a group who would rather bar new technology from the market than embrace a new source of revenue that they don't understand. So far, the courts have ruled in favor of freedom and have not done the RIAA's bidding. This is a landmark in the way digital information is marketed and sold. Rio is the future, boys. You can either get with the program and make tons of money while charging fair prices or do a slow fade while a legion of young entrepreneurs replaces you. Everyone who mourns the loss of DAT should go buy a RIO player.

We also had success with the Creative Labs DVD package. DVD is the wave of the future, and will eventually replace CDROM and CD R/W for both distribution and archive storage. If you don’t have a DVD system in your computer, think about getting one; it’s time. DVD in its opening year did more business than laser disks ever did.

When you do get a DVD drive, you can get the National Geographic Map set. I have those maps as a set of 8 – count them, 8 – CDROMs containing every map every published in the National Geographic magazine. This includes their wonderful historical maps. I’m very glad to have this as a CDROM set, but the proper way to buy it is as ONE DVD disk; sure makes it easier to use.




We learned a lot of lessons this month.

First, and most important: if you are using high-end systems such as an AMD K6-2 and Windows 98, be very careful about complicated screen savers. They can crash your system. We have had severe problems with "energy saving" software as well. Most of it is not useful: you really save very little energy putting your computer on "standby" and powering down your disk drives, and given the wear and tear on the system the "savings" may be negative.

In particular, the screen savers with Play’s Gizmos, in connection with "energy saving" software, can completely lock up your system; it won’t go to "sleep", it becomes unconscious, and has to be reset to wake it up. The Play screen savers are beautiful, and if you turn off ALL of the "energy saving" software, both in Windows 98 AND in the BIOS, then you can enjoy seeing Kiki Stockhammer and other pictures in a wonderful display of what modern graphics can do; but if that system ever goes to monitor standby, you are not likely to wake it up again.

Which brings us to another Chaos Manor onion: to the "energy savers" like Nader who have dictated all kinds of silly "green" software that doesn’t do what it is supposed to do, and often costs a great deal more energy in wear and tear on systems. It may or may not be a large energy saving to put the monitor on standby – my UPS system doesn’t notice the change in load when the monitor is on from when it’s ‘asleep’ – but it certainly doesn’t save power to power down disks and motors. The CPU in your system doesn’t use much energy, and you don’t dare turn off the fans, which use more than everything else put together.

The simplest solution is to turn off all the energy saving features and use the screen saver you like. If that doesn’t appeal to you, then turn off all the ‘features’ except the one that puts your monitor in stand-by; and be very careful what screen saver software you use when you do that. Some of those screen savers use more CPU cycles than any other software you’ll be running.

You have been warned.

Lesson Two: USB Mouse works, and iWill motherboards work, but you must have faith when you’re installing Windows 98 on them. It takes several shutdown-restart operations. I have found that it’s easier to add one board at a time: Plug and Play may, repeat may, work first time out and install all your hardware at once, but then you may win the Irish Sweepstakes, too. I’ve given up expecting either to happen.

We installed a USB mouse in one of the systems, and that seemed to work. We had some other problems and I took it out in favor of a PS/2 mouse, but that was mostly to simplify the system for debugging; as far as I can tell, the USB mouse not only worked, but we were able to liberate IRQ 12 (normally reserved for the PS/2 mouse) to use for something else. Since USB samples the mouse position about twice as often as the PS/2 mouse does, you may find that a USB mouse will give a slight edge for games that require a lot of mouse clicking.

One problem: the USB mouse was NOT FOUND by Windows 98 in "SAFE" mode. Windows does give you the opportunity to plug in a serial mouse, and of course you can learn the keyboard commands for Windows. We got through it, but fair warning. Of course we haven’t tried this with all the different motherboards and BIOS programs, and there may be some that support USB in all phases including Safe Mode; but be careful. A critical factor for the acceptance of USB (and the elimination of resource-hogging legacy ports) is support for basic pointer devices in the BIOS. Just give us XY movement, and the two buttons. That’s enough to get out of most any mess, and would solve the Safe Mode problem we had.


I have a US Robotics 56K x2 Sportster Faxmodem, which had the older software that let it run at 56K (actually 53K due to government regulations that must make sense to someone) only on certain connections. On my usual connection to the Internet I was lucky to get 33K and usually got only 28. That’s not all that bad, except for big downloads, but faster is better, so Alex decided to upgrade the modem software to the standard V.90 (from USR’s own, non-standard x2) everyone uses. This isn’t easy.

Connect to the USR website; download the modem checker software, then hang up; connect to their bulletin board, which is a toll call; and try to download the software. That takes forever, the site doesn’t permit resuming if you lose contact, and we lost the connection twice. Eventually it worked: after which the happy ending. It was all worth while, because my usual connection to the Internet is now on average faster than 45K, and it seems a bit more reliable as well.

When Roberta was having problems connecting to to cash in on credit card orders, we found that the Creative Modem Blaster just didn’t work; at least the ICVERIFY tech support people couldn’t come up with an initialization string that would let us send in credit card transactions. I got disgusted with that and went out to Fry’s where I bought a US Robotics 56K x2 V.90 Faxmodem which appears to be about the same as the one I have; that is, it looks the same. Apparently US Robotics no longer distinguishes between "Courier" and "Sportster" models; at least there’s no sign of either designation on this one. We plugged it in on the port where the Creative Modem Blaster had been, and found that Windows 98 sure doesn’t make it easy to change modems and make that stick: that is, the new modem installed properly, but if there’s a way to tell the system to change from the old to the new other than to tell DialUp Networking every time, I don’t know it.

We solved that problem by removing the Creative Modem Blaster drivers so there wasn’t any choice about which modem the system would use; after which everything worked fine. Roberta was able to initialize this modem to whatever arcane signals wants, and we got all our credit card orders processed.

So, again this year, as every year for a decade, the Chaos Manor User’s Choice Award for modems goes to US Robotics, now a division of 3Com. They have a user hostile web site, but their modems work reliably when others don’t. You won’t go wrong with US Robotics, and since the software can be upgraded, you probably aren’t really paying much more for the genuine article since it’s going to last years longer than most other brands.


In the last twenty years, I have experimented with an embarrassment of Personal Data Assistants (PDAs) and their software. Most of them go into a box and are never seen again. The Palm Pilot is unusual: I actually carry it, and use it, and in fact I’m getting dependent on it. Unlike the old Apple Newton, the Palm Pilot is small enough to carry, and uses so little battery power that you don’t have to spend time worrying about that. It will take you a week or so to learn the "Graffiti" handwriting language the system recognizes, and if you don’t use it for a while you may need a bit of a refresher; but it can be learned, even by people my age, and once learned you can write pretty fast with it. I have learned to write in the dark, although the Palm Pilot does have a backlight if you want to use the battery power for that.

The Windows software to go with the Pilot is another matter: I haven’t decided whether I like Franklin Ascend or Microsoft Outlook 98 for time, date, address book, and note management. Actually, I prefer Franklin Ascend and by a lot: it’s just that Outlook does integrate well with Microsoft Office, and I use it as my mail reader now. Indeed, despite some love/hate relations with Outlook 98 (every now and then I treat my web site visitors to another tirade about some stupid trick Outlook has done this week) I really do use and like Outlook for mail, and it seems reasonable that I ought to be using it for time and date management as well.

The big problem with Outlook is that it stuffs all your mail into one enormous file called outlook.pst, which uses a format no one understands. Unlike Eudora, you can’t get at the individual mail items, or much of anything else. You can export them, or save them as document or text files; but you can’t just use Explorer to find and examine them. Moreover, if you ever lose that pst file, you’ve had it. Outlook would be a much better product if it came with a pst file parsing program.

Being a Microsoft product, Outlook really prefers to work with a Windows CE PDA system like Cassiopeia, and doesn’t come with any software to support the Palm Pilot, but that’s easily remedied: for well under fifty bucks you can get Chapura Pocket Mirror ( which knows how to connect your Palm Pilot with Outlook. Better yet is Desktop to Go ( that does a very great deal more to synchronize your Outlook and Palm Pilot and offers a lot more flexibility. Both these work, but of the two I prefer Desktop to Go.

On the other hand, the Palm Pilot integrates with Franklin Ascend something wonderful, and Ascend is a much better time management program than Outlook. For the past week or so I have been playing with both Ascend and Outlook: to do that, I set up two Palm Pilots, one a "genuine" Palm III, the other a Palm Pilot Professional upgraded to a Palm III. Of the two instruments, I mildly prefer the older upgraded Pro: it has all the features of the III, and it’s a bit thinner and I like the shape better. The Palm III has a (removable) cover, sort of like a Star Trek flipper Communicator, which some like. The stylus is a little harder to get to than on the Pro. All told, though, there’s not a lot of difference, and either is small and light and handy enough to carry in a shirt pocket.

The older Palm Pilot Pro cradle is nicer than the new Palm III cradle; alas neither model can use the other’s cradle at all. However, for travel there’s a cable that takes the place of a cradle, and the same cable fits either Palm III or the Pilot Pro.

The Franklin Ascend package comes with Ascend 97 and Ascend 5.0, and many prefer the older program. Both work, and in my judgment both are better time management programs than Outlook. I’ve had an off and on relationship with Franklin for the past couple of years, because I haven’t seen all their upgrades as improvements; but both 97 and 5.0 work with Palm Pilot, and my guess is that if you’re not used to the older Ascend you’ll like the newer one just fine. The Chaos Manor User’s Choice Award for Personal Data Management goes to the Franklin Ascend Palm Pilot III combination. Recommended.

If you do get a Palm Pilot, you’ll want to know about Pilot Island Software ( They make a business pack and a set of general utilities, both worth looking at. You’ll also want the O’Reilly book PalmPilot The Ultimate Guide ( Also, fair warning: my son Richard prefers a Windows CE device, as do many. This is one area where there is genuine competition. My guess is that pretty soon there will be ways to transfer data from the one to the other, and which system you carry, Windows CE or Palm Pilot, will be largely a matter of aesthetics and taste.


When I crashed my Bronco II in Death Valley, I knew precisely where I was, because I had the DeLorme Streets program with their GPS receiver. That works with a laptop, and you can load a portion of the program into your Palm Pilot, then connect the little GPS receiver, and walk around knowing where you are to within a few yards. I’m not sure what category to put this in, but I’m quite certain the DeLorme GPS and US Street maps package deserves a Chaos Manor User’s Choice Award.


Chaos Manor orchids to the entire O’Reilly book series; I have yet to see a bad O’Reilly book, and I have a lot of them. Truth in advertising: Robert Bruce Thompson and I are this week signing on with O’Reilly to do a book with the working title of The Chaos Manor Guide to Good Enough; I suspect the title tells you all you need to know about it.

A big orchid and User’s Choice Award to Adaptec: the orchid because their SCSI boards work and their documentation is excellent. The User’s Choice goes to their software CD CREATOR, which works with a wide variety of CD/R devices to allow you to burn your own CD’s. I make several a week now, archive what I write, software I want to hang on to but don’t need on my hard disk, and data sucked down from the Internet. CD/R can change your life, and Adaptec has made it easy to use.

Orchids and a User’s Choice Award to the Olympus D-400 Zoom Digital Camera. This pocket sized camera takes megapixel shots, zooms nicely from mild wide to mild telephoto, holds over 100 VGA sized pictures or 30 high quality or 8 super high quality images, and is just all around easy to carry and to use. If you’re looking for a digital camera, don’t miss this one. I love mine.

A large Chaos Manor orchid to HP for their DesignJet technology. My LaserJet 4000 TN is networked to all the systems in the house and gets hard usage with never a problem. There are a lot of good printers in the world, but I’ve found by and large that if you stick with HP you’ll seldom have printing headaches; one less thing to worry about.

While I probably played more Total Annihilation than any other game, the Game of the year was StarCraft. The graphics are awesome, the pace is just right, and it’s just a lot of fun. However, the war game of the year is People’s General from SSI. This has a great balance between playability and realism, and for me operates at just the right level of abstraction. Honorable mention goes to Steel Panthers III, which simulates brigade level operations better than anything I have seen, and which I confess I have used to set up and play out some battle scenes that made their way into my novels. You’ll also like Michael Knight’s "official strategy guide" to Steel Panthers III; it’s not a cheat book, but a good introduction to brigade operations both in the real world and the game. A second honorable mention to Microsoft, AGE OF EMPIRES: The Rise of Rome (Expansion). This fixes a number of limits on Age of Empires, and adds the Roman period, thus making more interesting what was already one of the most beautiful games in production.

The book of the Month is Patrick O’Brian THE HUNDRED DAYS, the last of the Aubrey-Maturin sea stories; the Hundred Days are of course the short reign of Napoleon after his return from exile to Elba. If you ever liked sea stories you must know of the O’Brian books; there are no others like them.

And a final word for the new year: if you don’t use some kind of uninterruptible power supply (UPS) then you must not think your work is very important. UPS systems are cheap and easy to use, and the APC UPS systems are more than Good Enough. A portable computer is itself an UPS, of course, but while that may protect you from power surges, it won’t protect your modem: I once had a modem destroyed in an Atlanta hotel room just as I was demonstrating email to the local Congressman. APC makes a neat little in-line gadget that you can use to couple your modem to the local phone line. It protects from surges, and also keeps your modem from being destroyed if you inadvertently plug it into a digital telephone system. Get one; it won’t cost much and the peace of mind is worth it.

Next month it’s back to the regular format. I’ve just learned that I will be attending the World PC Expo in Tokyo next September, so I hope to meet many of my Nikkei Byte readers then. Happy New Year to everyone.



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