A Special Report by

Russell Kay

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BOOK Reviews


Russell Kay was one of my colleagues at BYTE. One of the joys of BYTE was working with people like him. Here's Russell Kay:


Here in Boston there's this monstrous highway project aimed at putting the main expressways underground; it's called The Big Dig. I thought about naming this little adventure of mine The Big Disk.... BTW, The Big Dig had for a long while one of the best billboards I've ever seen, located at the intersection of the Mass Turnpike and the Fitzgerald Expressway. The copy read: "Rome wasn't built in a day; if it was, we would have hired their contractor."

Followed by a short comment by a reader.


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For several months I've been using an IBM Deskstar 14-GB IDE drive. Fast and slick. Formatted to a single FAT32X C: drive under Win98, but requiring OnTrack's Disk Manager.

I wanted to repartition it to get another logical drive. (Because I wanted to install a second OS -- NT, and maybe Linux too, and they don't know about FAT32, much less 32X.) If I used DM, it would wipe everything out, and I didn't want to have to go through all of that. So I wanted to use one of the software utilities.

I had Partition Magic 3, which had always worked well, done what it said it would and never trashed anything, but it didn't know about FAT32X.

Tried Partition Commander. I had hopes for this, because it came from the folks who did such a nice job with System Commander. Well, PC might have worked, but the on-screen graphic was screwed up so that I couldn't tell what it said. I tried going through their tech support, but got diverted by a family disagreement. Abandoned PC at that point. Then, two days ago, I got the new PM 4.0, which does know about 32X.

Tried it out. First, it said to back up everything. OK, I did (well, not *everything*, just the data). PM kept failing with an error messge that wasn't in the manual. Went to the web site and found out that it meant "too many disk errors encountered; try running Scandisk and fixing them first." So I did. Then, using PM4, I reduced the size of the main partition and created a new one.

When I finished this process, the system wouldn't boot. Of course. Booting from a diskette (I had one! I had one!) showed that while the root directories and files were all there, all the files in those directories, as well as all subdirectories, were hosed. And the two copies of the FAT didn't match.

It's been a long time since a computer made me cry.

So after trying a bunch of futile things, I gave up. I went back to Disk Manager and repartitioned and reformatted. (This time, to seven 2-GB FAT, not FAT32 or 32X, partitions: Almost ANYTHING can read FAT.)

I reinstalled Windows 98, which involved finding the old DOS drivers for my CD-ROM drive since the Emergency Boot Diskette wouldn't boot again. Now, I've got about half my apps (the important ones) reinstalled now, but essentially I lost over a full day. And while my backed-up data is fine, I discovered, again of course, that there were things I should have backed up but didn't (like my email files).

Will I ever learn? Unlikely.

Will I recommend PM4 or PC? Perhaps and Probably Not.

Will I recommend humongous hard drives, including the IBM Deskstars? You bet. But think harder about the partition structure *before* you set up the darn thing!


Russell Kay * Kay &; Kaboodle

Technical Writing &; Editing * Computer Support

8 Tupelo Road * Worcester, MA 01606 * USA

Russell Kay


Fitzsimmons []

Re Russell Kay's Participation Blues Article

I was unable to get this reply through to Russell Kay at BIX, so I’m sending it to Jerry.

Dear Russell:

I just read your article on Jerry Pournelle’s web site. It had an all-too familiar ring to it - over the holidays, I aced two of the 5 volumes on my PC. This is a sorry tale about a guy who, for a lark, thought he’s install NT 4 Workstation in a dual boot configuration with Win95, just to see what happened. As it turned out, some of my Aptiva’s innards are not to NT 4’s taste, and since I had no intention of changing them, I thought, well I’ll just uninstall NT 4. Went to the MS Knowledge Base ( a little knowledge is a dangerous thing!) and downloaded enough of the paving stones to hell to get me launched into purgatory, at least. In fact I launched my C and E drives into Neverland - so much so that my trusty Aptiva recovery CD-ROM, that scorches the earth, but puts the boot volume back the way it was shipped on Day 1 - would not run. Drive C was no longer bootable. Bring in FDISK and say bye-bye to hours of application installing and configuration fiddling.

Another parallel with your tale was that my second physical drive ( a Maxtor 5.2G) requires a special utility to run at boot time so that the Aptiva’s BIOS can recognise it. Getting this utility back onto the reconstructed Drive C was frustrating and scary - it didn’t seem to be working. As it turns out, it was just the horrible user interface of the Maxtor program that made it seem as though nothing had actually been done.

Anyway, the upside is that I got that nice clean, small registry that I’ve been yearning for a year - perhaps a little bit like using amputation to cure athlete’s foot. The other things I salvaged from the 1 day-plus restoration work to recover from my self-inflicted wounds, is that Win 95 is really - don’t laugh - a very nice piece of software. I mean it. I think we overlook sometimes that it is a pretty smart and very friendly operating system - especially compared to the Nurse Diesel unfriendliness of NT 4. While I had NT 4 running (without sound or internal modem) I did admire how solid and sleek it is. My main application - WordPerfect 8 - loved it, and I kind of liked it myself. Then it bit me.

I enjoyed your article. I’ve worked with PCs and minicomputers since 1981, but clearly, I have not been around computers so long that I couldn’t make a horrendous blunder. Thank heaven for the ZIP drive, that makes it easy for the slothful to back up their data.

Best regards,


Charles Fitzsimmons





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