Mac emulation and insights

I’m scaring myself. I’ve been playing around with Mac emulation on my PC at home (I can get an old Quadra or something from work for nothing or virtually nothing, but finding space to set it up properly in these cramped quarters would be an issue, especially since I’d have to give it its own keyboard and mouse and possibly its own monitor). My Celeron-400 certainly feels faster than the last 68040 I used, and I greatly prefer my clackety IBM keyboard and my Logitech mouse over anything Apple ever made, so this emulation setup isn’t bad. I’ve got MacOS 8.0 running on my Celeron 400, though on an 040 (especially an emulated 040), 7.6.1 would be much better if I can track down an installation CD for it by some chance.
Of course, there’s the issue of software. A lot of the ancient 68K Mac software is freely available (legally) these days, and it raises the old “Are we better off now than we were 10 years ago?” question. I don’t know. I still think the software of yesterday was much leaner and meaner and less buggy. By the same token, programs didn’t necessarily work together like they do today, and the bundles of today were virtually unheard of. Software ran anywhere from $99 to $999, and it typically did one thing. More, an outliner from Symantec (not to be confused with the Unix paging utility), made charts and outlines. That was it. And it cost around $100. The functionality that’s in MS Office today would have cost many thousands of dollars in 1990. Of course, the very same argument could be made for hardware. You couldn’t get the functionality available in a $399 eMachine for any price in 1990–there were very high-end machines in 1990 with that kind of CPU power, of course, but the applications weren’t there because you don’t buy a supercomputer to run word processing.

Messing around with this old Mac software gave me some insights into the machine. One of the freely available packages is Think Pascal. In high school, we did computer applications on Macs and programming (at least the advanced programming classes I was taking) on IBM PCs. So I know Pascal, but this was my first exposure to it on the Mac. Reading some of the preliminary documentation on programming a Mac in Think Pascal gave me some insight into why the Mac has (and always had) such a rabid following. I don’t really find the Mac any easier to use than Windows (and there are some things I have to do that are far easier in Windows) but I won’t deny the Mac is a whole lot easier to program. Implementing “Hello, World!” in Think Pascal on a Mac is much easier than implementing it in C on Windows, and the Think Pascal version of “Hello, World!” makes more sense to me than even the Visual Basic version of “Hello, World!” on Windows. It’s more complicated than the main() { printf(“Hello, World!\n”); } you would use in DOS or Unix, but if you use all available tools and put the dialog boxes and buttons in resources it’s not much more complex, and programmers can rough in GUI elements and get on with the code while they shove the GUI elements off to artsy people, then it’s easy to use ResEdit or another resource editor to put the final GUI elements in.

And, bite my tongue, it would appear that programming the Mac was easier than programming the Amiga as well. I wrote plenty of command-line tools for the Amiga but I never mastered the GUI on that platform either.

I’m not saying anyone can program a Mac, but having attempted unsuccessfully to learn how to program effectively in Windows, I can say people who wouldn’t program in Windows can (and probably do, or at least did back in the day) program the Mac. My friends Tom Gatermann, Tim Coleman and I stand no chance whatsoever of being able to develop a decent Windows app, but we would have made a decent Mac development team with Tom and Tim handling the GUI and me writing code and all of us contributing ideas.

The next time I need a computer to do something for me that I can’t find a readily made program to do, I’m apt to load up Think Pascal on a Mac emulator and take a crack at it myself. My simple mind can handle programming that platform, and I suspect some of the innovative programs that appeared on the Mac first may have originally been written by people like me who have ideas but don’t think like a traditional programmer.

———-

From: Robert Bruce Thompson

“I can count on one hand the number of people I know who’ve ever built anything from discrete components, myself included…”

You’re hanging out with way too young a crowd. I’m only 47, and I used to build stuff from discrete components, including ham transmitters, receivers, amplifiers, and so on using *tubes*. You probably wouldn’t recognize a tube if it bit you, so I’ll explain that they were glass things kind of like light-bulbs. They were available in hundreds of types, which one used for various purposes–diodes, triodes, and so on. When they were running, they lit up with an orange light. Very pretty. And they did burn out frequently, just like light bulbs.

And I’ll be that if I were pressed hard enough, I could even remember the resistor color codes.

Geez.

———-

Too young and too lazy. But I do know what tubes are–they’re still used in audio equipment, for one, because they give a richer tone than transistors. And I remember when I was really young, there was a drugstore we used to go to that still had a tube tester in back.

But I remember the eyebrows I raised in high school when I was building something that needed a particular logical gate, and I couldn’t quickly locate the appropriate chip. I had a book that told how to build the gate using discrete components, so I did it. Actually I raised eyebrows twice–once for building the thing that required the chip in the first place, and once for making the chip stand-in.

Fixing stuff, computer and recording-related

A productive weekend. I’m writing this well in advance because I fully expect to have no time available the next couple of days. So I’ll talk about my weekend.
Rebuildng a 486SX/20. The power supply in Steve DeLassus’ old Leading Technology 486 that’s been serving as his Linux firewall/gateway/DNS cache for the better part of a year died last week. Unfortunately, he had one of the last of the true-blue AT clones–you oldtimers know what I’m talking about. You know, the power supplies with the lever switch on the side, rather than that cheap modern pushbutton? Well, good luck finding one of those power supplies these days. Pushbutton AT boxes are easier to find than dirt, but getting one of those to work in that case would have been a serious gerry-rig. So we picked up a new AT case/ps combo to transfer the contents into. All told, it took me a couple of hours to get the guts transferred to the new case and to get the system back up and running (it takes 5-7 minutes, literally, to boot–once it’s running it’s fine, but we’re talking a seriously underpowered computer here).

Fixing an Alesis ADAT. Say what? An ADAT is an 8-track digital tape recorder that records on SVHS tape. I’ve had one for a couple of years for odd recording projects, but when I took it to church Thursday and set it up, it made as much noise as John’s synthesizer (and it wasn’t nearly as pleasant a sound). It flashed a few error codes and ate the tape. Swell. ADATs are notoriously tempermental and unreliable. Unfortunately for me, it’s next to impossible to find anyplace to service them–the places I could find needed a week and a half to three weeks before they could even look at it. But I needed it Monday. Last time something like that happened, a computer was involved, and that was when I learned how to fix my own computers. So guess what I did? I learned how to fix ADATs.

An ADAT looks like a big VCR, and there’s lots of open space, so when I showed it to a former VCR tech I work with, he pointed out every potential trouble spot very easily after we popped the cover. So I went off to Gateway Electronics for some rubber restorer, tape head cleaner, and foam swabs. On the way back I drove past a music store with an Alesis sign in the front window. So I stopped in, because it’s best to calibrate an ADAT against an ST-126 cassette, and all I have are ST-120s. So I paid way too much for an ST-126, but they were kind enough to format it for me. So I spent a couple of hours Saturday afternoon ripping open the ADAT and cleaning it. I let it dry for a few hours, came home, popped in the fresh ST-126, and the ADAT didn’t complain. Good. I went ahead and cleared its internal memory and calibrated it against the new tape just to be on the safe side, and successfully recorded with it.

Fortunately for me, the ‘net is full of ADAT care and maintenance tips. It turned out my buddies and I did just about every possible wrong thing you could to the poor thing (letting it sit idle for months; leaving tapes in with the power off, running it without a UPS or power conditioner, using cheap tapes rather than high-grade ones, and in the case of one of us — not me — smoking around it). It’s now in my sole possession, so I expect it’ll do a whole lot better now. Normally they first need service after about 250 hours of use. This one has 45 on it and has needed service twice. I don’t intend to let it happen again.

Speaking of the electronics store… As I was digging around for solvents and swabs and chuckling over some of the other obscure gear in the place (there’s stuff there that was there when I first visited the store 10 years ago–scout’s honor), I couldn’t help but notice another customer. For one, she was young and female. Standard clientele at this place is mid-40s male. I’m out of place there. For two, she was gorgeous. For three, she kept walking up to the front counter with a handful of resistors, verifying their specs with the guy there. I can count on one hand the number of people I know who’ve ever built anything from discrete components, myself included. So I was mulling over what to say to her (of course) when her boyfriend walked up. Drat.

My songwriting debut. I couldn’t find my keys or my wallet this morning, so I didn’t make early church. It was just as well because I had this song running around in my head that needed to escape to paper. I’ve written exactly one listenable song that isn’t about something that’s either depressing or enraging (and that was a song about someone who has no self-esteem but should). For the video we’re producing, we need to have some backing music (which was why I was messing with the ADAT). And something tells me pastor would be less than happy if we used Love Songs Bite.

So we’ve got a talented musician who knows how to write music but not lyrics. And we’ve got a wannabe goth/punk songwriter who’s never written a happy song in his life tasked with writing the lyrics. The day before we needed them, they hit me. I don’t think they’re all that great, but they fit our need and John liked them, and the thought did occur to me that they do say more than a lot of the songs we sing do, and if John can work a good pop hook or two in there and we can get the rhythm section to drive it, it just might fly.

I probably should bring a Cars CD tomorrow for John to listen to, since of all the bands I know they probably most closely resemble our setup. Their sound was defined by guitarist Elliot Easton and keyboardist Greg Hawkes — and our two best musicians happen to be on those two instruments as well. Their other hallmark was the harmonies Easton, Hawkes, and Ben Orr did in the background. We’ve got people who can do that too. Or we can just get the choir up there. And I’m at least as disturbed as singer/songwriter Ric Ocasek was, but I’ll keep my neurotic lyrics to myself. And I’ll let someone else sing. We’ll skip that part of the formula.

Whew. That’s a lot of stuff. After all that, I should take the rest of the week off — but I know I won’t.

A nice Internet utility

Another Internet utility. I found a link to Naviscope (www.naviscope.com) this week. Naviscope is a swiss army knife Internet tool, providing ad blocking, DNS caching, prefetch, logging and a few other features. As such, it can replace Proxomitron, FastNet, and Netsonic–three utilities I mention in Optimizing Windows.
I find I like it, but I really miss Proxomitron’s ability to freeze animated GIFs. I absolutely, positively detest anything that moves on Web pages, so I love that feature and find I hate living without it. You can run Naviscope through another proxy server, so I may just try running the two in conjunction with each other. Maybe one will catch ads the other won’t.

I do like the prefetch, which is much more polite than NetSonic (though you have to configure it, but it prefetches only a few links, rather than prefetching everything that links like NetSonic), and the DNS cache is great. Of course I can do that with a Linux box with BIND set up (a great use for a 386 or low-end 486, by the way), but this is easier for most people.

Fixing Win9x with bootlog.txt

Using bootlog.txt. I resurrected a dead Win95 box yesterday; it wouldn’t boot. Bootlog.txt to the rescue. (You can also use bootlog.prv, the log of the previous boot). Search the file for the string “fail” and note the device driver that isn’t working. Hot tip: frequently it’s a network driver. Boot into safe mode, remove the offending driver(s) from Device Manager and potentially problematic software (Anti-Virus software and RealAudio both come to mind; you can always reinstall those later after you’ve got the system back up and running), then reboot. If you boot successfully, add the drivers back in, then reinstall the software you uninstalled, and you’re back in business. Sure beats a reformat and reinstall.
Spam. And I understand some people want me to fly to a foreign country and open a bank account, deposit a large sum of their own money into the account, and at some later date they’ll come take back 2/3 of it. The remaining 1/3 is mine to keep, presumably for helping them hide their assets. Yeah. And Bill Gates wants to send me to Disney World.

I will give them credit though. This hoax was cleverly enough written that I read it in its entirety. A little entertainment to start my day.

Amiga influence on Linux

Amiga lives! (Well, sort of). When it comes to GUIs, I’m a minimalist. Call me spoiled; the first GUI I used was on a 7.16-MHz machine with a meg of RAM, and it was fast. Sure, it wasn’t long before software bloat set in and I had to add another meg, and then another, but at a time when Windows 3.1 was running like crap on 4 megs and only decently on 8, I had 6 megs on my Amiga and didn’t really know what to do with all of it. So I left 3 megs available to the system, ran a 3-meg ramdisk, and all was well with the world. Until Commodore’s raw dead fish marketing caught up with it and pulled it and the company under.
Under Linux, KDE and GNOME look good, but they run slower than Windows on my PCs. And I like the idea of my P120 being a usable box. I can do that under Linux, but not with KDE as my Window manager. There’s IceWM, which is nice and lean, and there’s xFCE, which resembles HP’s implementation of CDE (and also resembles OS/2, bringing back fond memories for me–why is it everything I like is marketed as raw dead fish?), and now, two years after its release, I’ve discovered AmiWM.

AmiWM (http://www.lysator.liu.se/~marcus/amiwm.html) is a clone of the Amiga Workbench, the Amiga’s minimalist GUI. It’s small and fast and reminds me of the good old days when computers were computers, and didn’t try to be CD players, dishwashers, toaster ovens, televisions, and the like. For an aging PC (or for a new one that you want to run as quickly as possible–hey, you must be mildly interested in that, seeing as you’re reading my site and that’s my specialty), this one’s hard to beat.

Hardware developments

Hardware news. Lots of stuff today. We’ll take it one at a time.
AMD to hit 1.5 GHz by January. Intel intends to release a 1.5 GHz P4 in late November/early December. AMD’s a bit behind that (assuming Intel will deliver, which they’ve been having difficulty doing lately), but the 1 GHz Athlon performs similarly to a 1.4 GHz P4. Good news for us, bad news for Intel. AMD intends to release a 1.2 GHz Athlon within a month, along with an 800 MHz Duron.

In related news, the AMD 760 chipset (the SMP-enabled one) will be released this year.

The P4 problems are related to the use of PCI graphics cards and Intel has reportedly fixed the problem. Although allowing much higher clock rates, the P4 is less efficient than the P3, so a 1.4 GHz P4 is expected to give comparable performance to a 1 GHz P3. It won’t be until Intel hits 1.5 GHz and higher that the new architecture will give any performance advantage over what’s available now. Not that you can find a 1 GHz P3…

Memory prices are down. If you’re looking to buy, this is a good time. You never know when they’ll rise again, or fall for that matter.

Maxtor buys Quantum. In a consolidation of disk manufacturers, Maxtor bought the disk manufacturing wing of Quantum for $2 billion, making Maxtor the world’s biggest disk manufacturer. Quantum’s tape operations will be spun off into a new company, to be named Quantum.

Windows optimization trick

Wednesday, 10/4/00
Turn off that bloody throbber! Here’s a tip that would have made it into Optimizing Windows, had I known about it at the time. You know that annoying Windows-logo throbber that shows up in Explorer windows that blinks during disk access, bugging you and stealing precious CPU cycles? You can turn it off or on with a Registry hack. It’s too messy to describe here, but you can download a pair of regfiles from http://www.pla-netx.com/linebackn/evil/ThrobOff.zip if you want it.

The throbber is useful in IE to let you know that Web page is indeed loading, but when you’re hunting through your own hard drive, what’s the point?

Changing CPU priorities in Windows 95/98/Me

Take charge of your CPU usage under Win9x. I talked about CPU Controller from BinaryWork in Optimizing Windows, which allows you to set a task’s priority (a la WinNT’s Task Manager). There’s a freeware app at http://www.blehq.org/pv2k.htm that has most of its functionality. Haven’t tested it yet, but I definitely will.
———-

From: “Chuck Buker”

Subject: Dual Duron/Athlon

I love my dual celeron Abit BP-6 machine, but I have been salivating over the prospect of a dual Duron machine for some time now. And with 700 mhz Durons selling below $90, I can hardly stand the wait.

Do you have any idea if or when someone is going to come out with a dual Scoket A (Duron or Athlon) motherboard and whether the Duron’s or Athlon’s support SMP?

———-

According to everything I’ve read, both the Athlon and Duron are SMP-capable. The forthcoming AMD-760 chipset has SMP support (the AMD-750 and VIA KT133 don’t). I don’t remember where I saw this anymore, but I seem to remember reading recently that AMD expects to release that chipset near the end of the year. If I had to guess, I’d say early part of next year you’ll start seeing dual socket A boards.

The big thing standing in the way right now is the lack of an SMP-capable chipset.

Mail on modems

From: al wynn
Subject: External 56K modems

What do you think is the best external 56K modem in the market ?

———-

The best external 56K modems on the market are the 3Com/US Robotics Courier and the Zoom/Hayes Optima series, but they’re extremely pricey. The 3Com/US Robotics Sportsters and the Zoom/Hayes Accuras are nearly as good, cost about half as much, and are much easier to find. I don’t even look at other brands of modems; I stick with the big two (and give the edge to US Robotics).

Integrating Windows and Linux, fornever and ever

10/2
Integrating Windows and Linux, fornever and ever. Yes, the book that consumed much of my life and my health over the course of the past year or so since I finished Optimizing Windows has been quietly cancelled. I can’t say I’m happy about it. Actually there are a lot of things I’d like to say right now but I won’t. All rights did revert back to me, so I can find another publisher if I decide I want to finish it.

I’ve known about this for about a week, and the questions haven’t really gone away: Is this book like the ex-girlfriend I’m really better off without? Do I miss that book, or do I miss working on a book, period? Did I settle for a mediocre subject I wasn’t very comfortable with, just for the sake of writing a book?

So I’m toying with a subject I’m much more comfortable with, one that I have extremely strong opinions on, to see whether I’ve still got what it takes (mentally) to write a book. NaturallySpeaking will help with the physical part. I’ve started writing, slowly. Fortunately I have material I can dust off, clean up, and drop into place to jumpstart the project. Beyond that, I’m not going to say anything specific, except that I want to write for someone other than O’Reilly this time. I need a change of scenery. (And no one values loyalty these days anyway.)

David L. Farquhar, computer security professional, train hobbyist, and landlord