Publishing again, and Unix holy wars

I sent off an article to the UK Computer Shopper yesterday. I have no idea yet which issue it will be published in. Optimizing Windows seems to have a better following in the UK than here in the States; this series of articles will probably tilt the balance even more in that favor.
It will be interesting to see if they let my U.S. English stand, or if they translate it into British English. I listen to enough British and Irish music that my language is definitely colored by it, but I suspect I still sound pretty American. In college I tried to sound very British in my writing; I’ve since retreated back to Missouri because it feels more honest to write that way.
Dave’s still fighting his war. I talked with our Unix guru at work yesterday. He runs Linux and NetBSD at home almost exclusively, so he definitely has his finger on the pulse of the movement. I told him the story, then I quoted another friend, who’s fond of saying that Linux zealots are like Amiga zealots without the class, then exclaimed, “This software isn’t free! They may not charge any money for it, but they demand your soul!” And I’m not about to let software become my god. Charlie laughed, then he got real serious.
Those aren’t the old-timers in the movement, he pointed out. I’m pretty sure he’s right about that–Linus Torvalds talks candidly about how his family all runs Windows. Then he said Amiga was a much greater commitment than Linux is. Back in the Amiga’s glory day, it was an expensive computer. The easy decision was to go to Best Bait-n-Switch and buy a Packard Bell 386sx like everyone else did and pay $900 less for it. There wasn’t as much software available, and generally you paid full retail for it at out-of-the-way shops. The Amiga was expensive and not ubiquitous. You had to make a commitment to it, and you had to think long and hard about it before you did it.
Linux hardware, however, is dirt cheap. Sometimes it’s free. Businesses are glad to give their low-end Pentiums away, and Linux runs great on them. Linux is free. You download it off the ‘Net and burn your own CD. And much of the intellectual commitment that used to be there isn’t either, now that Mandrake and other distros install more easily than Windows does. And there’s more than enough useful software out there that installs easily, so you don’t even have to break out the C compiler anymore. On my first date with Linux back in 1996, there wasn’t any software in Slackware 3.0 that was useful to me except the C compiler. In those days, if you used Linux, chances are you wrote at least some of your own software. Two years later, when Charlie gave me a Red Hat 5.2 CD, there was more useful software on it than I knew what to do with. Today, most of the major distributions now have to come on multiple CDs because of the amounts of software they come with. It doesn’t matter anymore what you want to do with your computer, in many cases it’s all there for you, with little work on your part.
Charlie didn’t use the phrase “spoiled brat,” but he certainly implied it. When you had to make little or no commitment to your platform of choice, it’s hard to respect anyone else’s commitment to theirs.
Al Hawkins’ responses from yesterday (messages 27 and 29) echo some of that sentiment.
I’m not saying that’s the story behind every Linux activist. That’s certainly not the story with Moshe Bar or Brian Bilbrey. Nor is it the case with Charlie, and Charlie pushes very hard for Linux and the BSDs everywhere he goes. But that explains the tone of some of the zealotry I see online.

ÎLost_autobr=1

10/31/2000

I know there’s a word for this
I know ’cause we’ve all at some time said it
like when we were little kids
we’d fight each other ’til someone would give in
and you’d make him tell you ‘uncle’
  –Aimee Mann, “I Know There’s a Word” (Whatever, 1993)

Those lyrics came to mind the instant I read this.  My talkback is #22. There’s little point in reproducing any of it here.

I had a run-in with Mr. Darren (I recognize his style) the summer before last. Typical story Jerry tells. Jerry talks about Apple attack dogs who leap on anyone who dares write anything negative about Apple. Same principle here. Eventually you reach the point where you get sick of it and therefore don’t write anything at all about the subject to avoid the attack dogs.

The ignorance these people display about how computer journalism and the computer industry itself operate is unbelievable. Is it so unusual to learn something about a subject before opening your mouth about it?

This kind of crap makes me glad that now I’m not writing a book about Linux and Windows that might actually suggest that some people might have reason to run Windows. Oh, hell. I’ll go ahead and say it. Attention zealots: You know what software your beloved O’Reilly uses to write and edit its manuscripts? Microsoft Word!

On to a more pleasant subject. Good thing there’s a whole lot more to life than just computers. A friend called me up and told me to make sure I picked up the November issue of Vanity Fair because of a brief Aimee Mann/Michael Penn feature in it, plus Elvis Costello’s Top 500 recommended CDs. Good stuff. The issue kept me distracted from my article (due ASAP) for the better part of an hour.

Elvis’ best line: “As for the hit records of today, maybe some of them will sound just fantastic in 20 years’ time. It’s your life. So! No Marilyn, Korn, Puffy, Eddie Money–sorry, Kid Rock–Limp Bizkit, Ricky, Britney, Backstreet Boys, etc., etc.”

Here here!

Mail later. Probably. Assuming I bother.

It’s later. In March of 1999, Jerry was having some or another Linux problem, he got mail-bombed, and I sent him a letter, addressing him but also the Linux zealotry, asking, “What do you want? Do you want to be a punk computer like the Amiga, that no one uses? Repeat after me: Criticism of Linux is not a personal attack on me.” Jerry printed it, the result was a lot of mail.

One of them was this letter, to which I started writing a response but never got around to finishing because I couldn’t figure out what he wanted from me. This is, I’m pretty certain, the same “Darren” who wrote the “Jerry Pournelle finally admits he’s a Microsoft shill” headline at Linuxtoday.

I believe that what he and others like him are calling for is not journalism, nor is it editorial (which is where you call it like you see it–technically, that’s what Jerry Pournelle does. He’s a columnist, not a journalist) but rather, sheer advocacy.

I present it here. Opinions welcome–the mail link’s to the left, and you can leave comments by clicking on the skull icon at the end of the message (that’s what that’s for–I just haven’t gotten around to changing it).

From: Darren [SMTP:PCTech1018@netscape.net]Sent: Thursday, March 11, 1999 11:09 AM
Subject: RE: Your letter on Chaos Manor

Dave,

You asked the question “What do Linux Users want?”.

We want ACCURATE reporting.  This does not mean that we do not accept negative commentary.  This means that we are sick and tired of people with obvious Microsoft slants propagating unsubstantiated FUD while claiming journalistic objectivity.

Jerry Pournelle has a long history of being pro-microsoft.  His negative comments about Linux have a history of being based in ignorance. When he first started working with Linux and complaining about the lack of usability of Linux, he hadn’t even gotten a Linux system up and running. Why does he want Linux to continue to exist? So that Microsoft will continue to improve and dominate. These are demonstrable facts.

Journalists have continually spread anti-Linux FUD from Microsoft most often without any basis in fact. Until recently, the “difficult to use” argument was the predominant position. KDE, FVWM and other “easy-to-use” interfaces have existed for YEARS. This FUD has only recently been dying off after Microsoft’s demonstration of Caldera in court. There is the “lack of support” FUD argument. This FUD is finally dying off now that IBM, HP, Compaq, et al, have joined in the Linux “support” bandwagon. What is really ironic is that they are simply repackaging and using the same support mechanisms that have existed since the introduction of Linux 1.0 in 1994. Now we have a concentration of the “lack of applications” FUD. As more people become aware of HOW to use the sites such as www.linuxapps.com and www.metalab.unc.edu, this argument will also become apparent for the FUD that it is.

What do Linux users want? We want techno-journalists who do more than simply repeat the latest FUD out of Redmond.  They claim to have a certain level of expertise in the technical arena, but are most often only successful at demonstrating their own ignorance.

You obviously feel that we have been out of line in our treatment of certain journalists.  Would you care to give me an example of negative Linux reporting that was accurate from Jesse Berst, Jerry Pournelle or Ben Elgin? How about you give me any example at all from ANY journalist?

I am confident that I will be able to take any example you give me and show you how it is slanted, inaccurate, and not worthy of being published by professional journalists.

I do not intend this to be a flame mail, I just want to do my part to kill the bad journalism.

Regards,
Darren

I also have some (very lengthy) mail from someone who I believe is taking a much more constructive approach, or at least whose criticisms are much more valid. That should appear soon.

10/30/2000

Leading off, some baseball news. Baseball and network execs are puzzled over why this was the lowest-rated World Series ever. (Story here.) Could it be that no one’s interested in watching $200 million worth of spoiled brats from New York throw temper tantrums? Nah, couldn’t be.

Baseball needs a Cinderella story. Bad.

Athlons are dirt cheap. Don’t buy one. Dan Seto noticed and mentioned that AMD Athlons are now cheap as dirt, at least compared to their once-stratospheric levels. He cited a 1 GHz Athlon for $320. So I hopped on the Web, and sure enough, you can easily find one in the $300 range. Some of the bottom-feeder vendors are selling them for as little as $260.

The rest of the lineup? 700/$99, 750/$108, 800/$129, 850/$146, 900/$166, 950/$224.

Remember, though, before you rush out to buy a supercheap gigahertz CPU, that CPU speed is but one factor in performance. Match it up with a video card that treats you right, and with a sound card that isn’t going to suck up all your CPU cycles (the SB Live! MP3+ is an outstanding inexpensive choice), and most importantly, with a hard drive that doesn’t hold you back. If you’re building a performance system, particularly one that’ll be running Linux, NT, or W2K, give serious thought to a SCSI disk. You’ll be happier with a SCSI-equipped 700 MHz system than with an IDE-equipped GHz system.

If money were no object, here’s what I’d get today and why (then I’ll tell you why I still wouldn’t buy it, even if money were no object):

  • Asus A7V mobo — most stable Athlon board available, and every time I buy something other than an Asus I regret it later
  • AMD Thunderbird 1.2 GHz — strictly for braggin’ rights
  • 256 MB Crucial PC133 RAM — Micron memory, the best in the business
  • Adaptec 29160 Ultra160 SCSI PCI host adapter — hey, it’s Adaptec
  • Seagate Cheetah X15 18GB 15K RPM hard drive — Who cares about drive size? This bad boy has a 3.9 ms seek time, a 4-meg buffer and 15,000 rpm spindle speed. It’ll heat my apartment, it’ll wake up my neighbors, but I won’t wait on it (much).
  • Plextor UltraPlex Wide 40X CD-ROM — I love my Plextor drives
  • Plextor 12X CD-R with Burnproof — no coasters with this drive
  • Sound Blaster Live! Platinum — same as the MP3+ but with a nice front-mounted breakout box for my audio gear
  • 3Com 3CR990 NIC — this is the coolest NIC on the market, far and away. It has an onboard processor that handles much of the TCP/IP encapsulation itself, freeing CPU cycles. Same principle as 3D acceleration on your video card and DirectSound acceleration on your sound card. A hundred bucks, but probably worth every cent. Nobody seems to know about it, so I’m telling you.

I wouldn’t worry so much about the video card. My two-year-old STB Velocity 128 frankly is enough card for most of what I do. I suppose I’d get an nVidia GeForce256-based model of some sort. Since the nVidia Riva128 chipset has long since been sent to the gulag, the value chipset is the TNT2. Hot tip if you’re building a value PC: I’m seeing Creative Labs OEM TNT2-based cards for $60, and that’s more than enough card for all but the most die-hard gamer.

Amazingly, you could have this system for well under $3,000. I figured buying the best of everything would run into the $4500 range easily.

I suspect AMD slashed prices precisely because this is a good time to wait and they don’t want you to. Those in the know know that the AMD 760 chipset, which supports DDR SDRAM (basically 266 MHz SDRAM) comes out this week, so anything available today is old hat. This isn’t the multiprocessor AMD 760MP though — we’re looking at January for that. Sorry.

So why not buy now and replace the motherboard later? The 760 introduces a newer, faster front-side bus. If you want to exploit its full potential, you need a new CPU. No one is going to want these old ones now.

I spent a good part of the weekend working on an article. Essentially, I’m distilling chapter 2 of Optimizing Windows into a 3,000-word piece. That’s hard. The tips fit into that, but with very little explanation and very little flair. So much for the difference between it and every other “21 Ways to Speed Up Windows” article, except mine may be more complete for lack of explanation and flair.

Some argue they don’t want flair. They’re lying. Without flair, it reads like an economics textbook. Without explanation, you haven’t done anyone much good.

The line I really don’t want to lose: “I hate screen savers. I hate them so much, when I was once invited to make an appearance on a US television program called The Screen Savers, I turned them down.” Then I go into explaining why screen savers are the cause of everything wrong with the world today.

I was at 3,600 words Saturday, down to about 3,200 by Sunday afternoon. I can cut the two least important tips, leaving 20, and be at 2946, which might leave room for some screenshots. I’m half tempted to ask him if I can do the page layout for this thing as well… That’s not likely, but worth asking.

Scanner troubleshooting secrets

~Mail Follows Today’s Post~

Scanner wisdom. One of the things I did last week was set up a Umax scanner on a new iMac DV. The scanner worked perfectly on a Windows 98 PC, but when I connected it to the Mac it developed all sorts of strange diseases–not warming up properly, only scanning 1/3 of the page before timing out, making really loud noises, crashing the system…

I couldn’t resolve it, so I contacted Umax technical support. The tech I spoke with reminded me of a number of scanner tips I’d heard before but had forgotten, and besides that, I rarely if ever see them in the scanner manuals.

  • Plug scanners directly into the wall, not into a power strip. I’ve never heard a good explanation of why scanners are more sensitive to this than any other peripheral, but I’ve seen it work.
  • Plug USB scanners into a powered hub, or better yet, directly into the computer. USB scanners shouldn’t need power from the USB port, since they have their own power source, but this seems to make a difference.
  • Download the newest drivers, especially if you have a young operating system like MacOS 9, Mac OS X, Windows ME, or Windows 2000. It can take a little while for the scanner drivers to completely stabilize. Don’t install off the CD that came with the scanner, because it might be out of date. Get the newest stuff from the manufacturer’s Web site.
  • Uninstall old drivers before installing the new ones. This was the problem that bit me. The new driver didn’t totally overwrite the old one, creating a conflict that made the scanner go goofy.
  • Buy your scanner from a company that has a track record of providing updated drivers. Yes, that probably means you shouldn’t buy the $15 scanner with the $25 mail-in rebate. Yes, that means don’t buy HP. Up until a couple of years ago, getting NT drivers out of HP was like pulling teeth; now HP is charging for Windows 2000 drivers. HP also likes to abandon and then pick back up Mac support on a whim. Terrible track record.

Umax’s track record is pretty darn good. I’ve downloaded NT drivers for some really ancient Umax scanners after replacing old Macs with NT boxes. I once ran into a weird incompatibility with a seven-year-old Umax scanner–it was a B&W G3 with a wide SCSI controller (why, I don’t know) running Mac OS 8.6. Now that I think about it, I think the incompatibility was with the controller card. The scanner was discontinued years ago (before Mac OS 8 came out), so expecting them to provide a fix was way out of line.
m I’ve ever had with a Umax that they didn’t resolve, so when I spec out a scanner at work, Umax is always on my short list.

And here’s something I just found interesting. Maybe I’m the only one. But in reading the mail on Jerry Pournelle’s site, I found this. John Klos, administrator of sixgirls.org, takes Jerry to task for saying a Celeron can’t be a server. He cites his 66 MHz 68060-based Amiga 4000, which apparently acts as a mail and Web server, as proof. Though the most powerful m68k-based machine ever made, its processing power pales next to any Celeron (spare the original cacheless Celeron 266 and 300).

I think the point he was trying to make was that Unix plays by different rules. Indeed, when your server OS isn’t joined at the hip to a GUI and a Web browser and whatever else Gates tosses in on a whim, you can do a lot more work with less. His Amiga would make a lousy terminal server, but for serving up static Web pages and e-mail, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. Hosting a bunch of Web sites on an Amiga 4000 just because I could sounds very much like something I’d try myself if I had the hardware available or was willing to pay for the hardware necessary.

But I see Jerry Pournelle’s point as well.

It’s probably not the soundest business practice to advertise that you’re running off a several-year-old sub-100 MHz server, because that makes people nervous. Microsoft’s done a pretty admirable job of pounding everything slower than 350 MHz into obsolescence and the public knows this. And Intel and AMD have done a good job of marketing their high-end CPUs, resulting in people tending to lay blame at the CPU’s feet if it’s anything but a recent Pentium III. And, well, if you’re running off a shiny new IBM Netfinity, it’s very easy to get it fixed, or if need be, to replace it with another identical one. I know where to get true-blue Amiga parts and I even know which ones are interchangeable with PCs, but you might well be surprised to hear you can still get parts and that some are interchangeable.

But I’m sure there are far, far more sub-100 MHz machines out there in mission-critical situations functioning just fine than anyone wants to admit. I know we had many at my previous employer, and we have several at my current job, and it doesn’t make me nervous. The biggest difference is that most of them have nameplates like Sun and DEC and Compaq and IBM on them, rather than Commodore. But then again, Commodore’s reputation aside, it’s been years since I’ve seen a computer as well built as my Amiga 2000. (The last was the IBM PS/2 Model 80, which cost five times as much.) If I could get Amiga network cards for a decent price, you’d better believe I’d be running that computer as a firewall/proxy and other duties as assigned. I could probably get five years’ uninterrupted service from old Amy. Then I’d just replace her memory and get another ten.

The thing that makes me most nervous about John Klos’ situation is the business model’s dependence on him. I have faith in his A4000. I have faith in his ability to fix it if things do go wrong (anyone running NetBSD on an Amiga knows his machine better than the onsite techs who fix NetFinity servers know theirs). But there’s such thing as too much importance. I don’t let Apple certified techs come onsite to fix our Macs anymore at work, because I got tired of them breaking other things while they did warranty work and having to fix three things after they left. I know their machines better than they do. That makes me irreplaceable. A little job security is good. Too much job sercurity is bad, very bad. I’ll be doing the same thing next year and the year after that. It’s good to be able to say, “Call somebody else.” But that’s his problem, not his company’s or his customers’.

~~~~~~~~~~

From: rock4uandme
To: dfarq@swbell.net
Sent: Wednesday, October 25, 2000 1:22 PM
Subject: i`m having trouble with my canon bjc-210printer…

i`m having trouble with my canon bjc210 printer it`s printing every thing all red..Can you help???
 
 
thank you!!    john c
 
~~~~~~~~~

Printers aren’t my specialty and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Canon BJC210, but if your printer has replacable printheads (some printers make the printhead part of the ink cartridge while others make them a separate component), try replacing them. That was the problem with the only Canon printer I’ve ever fixed.
 
You might try another color ink cartridge too; sometimes those go bad even if they still have ink in them.
 
If that fails, Canon does have a tech support page for that printer. I gave it a quick look and it’s a bit sketchy, but maybe it’ll help. If nothing else, there’s an e-mail address for questions. The page is at http://209.85.7.18/techsupport.php3?p=bjc210 (to save you from navigating the entire www.ccsi.canon.com page).
 

I hope that helps.

Dave
 
~~~~~~~~~~
 

From: Bruce Edwards
Subject: Crazy Win98 Networking Computer Problem

Dear Dave:

I am having a crazy computer problem which I am hoping you or your readers
may be able to give me a clue to.  I do have this posted on my daily
journal, but since I get very little traffic, I thought your readership or
yourself may be able to help.  Here’s the problem:

My wife’s computer suddenly and inexplicably became very slow when accessing
web sites and usually when accessing her e-mail.  We access the internet
normally through the LAN I installed at home.  This goes to a Wingate
machine which is connected to the aDSL line allowing shared access to the
internet.

My computer still sends and receives e-mail and accesses the web at full
speed.  Alice’s computer now appears to access the web text at about the
speed of a 9600 baud modem with graphics coming down even more slowly if at
all.  Also, her e-mail (Outlook Express) usually times out when going
through the LAN to the Wingate machine and then out over the internet. 
The LAN is working since she is making a connection out that way.

File transfer via the LAN between my PC and hers goes at full speed.
Something is causing her internet access to slow to a crawl while mine is
unaffected.  Also, it appears to be only part of her internet access.  I can
telnet out from her computer and connect to external servers very fast, as
fast as always.  I know telnet is just simple text, but the connection to
the server is very rapid too while connecting to a server via an http
browser is much much slower and then, once connected, the data flows so slow
it’s crazy.

Also, dial-up and connect to the internet via AOL and then use her mail
client and (external to AOL) browser works fine and is as speedy as you
would expect for a 56K modem.  What gives?

I tried reinstalling windows over the existing set-up (did not do anything)
and finally started over from “bare metal” as some like to say.  Reformat
the C drive.  Reinstall Windows 98, reinstall all the drivers, apps, tweak
the configuration, get it all working correctly.  Guess what?  Same slow
speed via the aDSL LAN connection even though my computer zips out via the
same connection.  Any suggestions?

Sincerely,

Bruce W. Edwards
e-mail:  bruce@BruceEdwards.com
Check www.BruceEdwards.com/journal  for my daily journal.

Bruce  🙂
Bruce W. Edwards
Sr. I.S. Auditor  
~~~~~~~~~~

From: Dave Farquhar [mailto:dfarq@swbell.net]Sent: Monday, October 23, 2000 6:16 PM
To: Edwards, Bruce
Cc: Diana Farquhar
Subject: Re: Crazy Win98 Networking Computer Problem

Hi Bruce,
 
The best thing I can think of is your MTU setting–have you run any of those MTU optimization programs? Those can have precisely the effect you describe at times. Try setting yor MTU back to 1500 and see what that does. While I wholeheartedly recommend them for dialup connections, MTU tweaking and any sort of LAN definitely don’t mix–to the point that I almost regret even mentioning the things in Optimizing Windows.
 
Short of that, I’d suggest ripping out all of your networking protocols and adapters from the Network control panel and add back in TCP/IP and only the other things you absolutely need. This’ll keep Windows from getting confused and trying to use the wrong transport, and eliminate the corrupted TCP/IP possibility. These are remote, but possible. Though your reinstall should have eliminated that possibility…
 
If it’s neither of those things, I’d start to suspect hardware. Make sure you don’t have an interrupt conflict (rare these days, but I just saw one a couple weeks ago so I don’t rule them out). Also try swapping in a different cable or NIC in your wife’s machine. Cables of course go bad more frequently than NICs, though I’ve had horrible luck with cheap NICs. At this point I won’t buy any ethernet NIC other than a Bay Netgear, 3Com or Intel.
 
I hope that helps. Let me know how it goes for you.

Dave 
~~~~~~~~~~
From: Bruce Edwards

Hi Dave:
 
Thank you for posting on your web site. I thought you would like an update.
 
I verified the MTU setting was still at 1500 (it was).  I have not used one of the optimizing programs on this PC.
 
I removed all the adapters from the PC via the control panel.  Rebooted and only added back TCP/IP on the Ethernet card. 
 
I double checked the interrupts in the control panel, there do not appear to be any conflicts and all devices report proper function.
 
I still need to 100% verify the wiring/hubs.  I think they are O.K. since that PC, using the same adapter, is able to file share with other PCs on the network.  That also implies that the adapter is O.K.
 
I will plug my PC into the same hub and port as my wife’s using the same cable to verify that the network infrastructure is O.K.
 
Then, I’ll removed the adapter and try a different one.
 
Hopefully one of these things will work.
 
Cheers,
 
Bruce
~~~~~~~~~~

This is a longshot, but… I’m wondering if maybe your DNS settings are off, or if your browser might be set to use a proxy server that doesn’t exist. That’s the only other thing I can think of that can cause sporadic slow access, unless the problem is your Web browser itself. Whichever browser you’re using, have you by any chance tried installing and testing the other one to see if it has the same problems?
 
In my experience, IE 5.5 isn’t exactly the greatest of performers, or when it does perform well, it seems to be by monopolizing CPU time. I’ve gotten much better results with IE 5.0. As for Netscape, I do wish they’d get it right again someday…
 
Thanks for the update. Hopefully we can find an answer.

Dave 
~~~~~~~~~~ 

10/28/2000

~Mail Follows Today’s Post~

Microsoft hacked! In case you haven’t heard, some hackers in St. Petersburg, Russia, had access to Windows source code for three months and the intrusion was only discovered this week. This could end up being a very good thing for you and me, believe it or not. (And this is even assuming the hackers didn’t fix any of the bugs they found.) As security consultant Andrew Antipass told Wired magazine, “It is interesting in a kind of cruel way that Microsoft has been eaten by the monsters it created.”

Microsoft has always been oblivious to security in their products. The only way they were going to learn was to be bitten, and hard. Now something has happened that calls their network infrastructure into question, the security of their products (which they’ve tried to present as more secure than Unix) into question, and even the integrity of the code they’ve produced in the last three months into question–Microsoft can say what they want about it being impossible to change the code. Of course they’re going to say that. Will the public believe it? Some will believe anything Microsoft says. Others wisely will believe exactly the opposite of anything Microsoft says. Still others (like me) will believe the worst no matter what Microsoft says.

If this incident doesn’t force Microsoft to start taking security seriously, nothing will.

The downside, however, is that if the hackers did indeed get Windows and/or Office source code, vulnerabilities become potentially easier to spot (not that access to Linux source code has significantly increased the number of vulnerabilities–remember, most hackers are script kiddies at best, writing in batch languages, and aren’t any more proficient in C++ than you or me).

All of this overshadowed Microsoft’s Internic entry being hacked (Apple’s entry got hacked too, though less creatively), which you can read about in The Register.

Enough of this computer junk. Let’s talk about music.

Review of U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind. If U2 were to call it quits right now and we had to pick out U2’s defining album, this would be it. That’s not to say it’s their best album–it’s awfully difficult to match the raw energy and wonder of Boy, the raw power of Achtung Baby, and if this one sells like The Joshua Tree, it’ll only be because there are so many fewer bands making good music in 2000 than there were in 1987.

That said, U2 seems to have finally answered the quintessential question of how to sound like U2 without sounding like selling out. For the past 13 years, every time U2 released an album, people expressed disappointment that it didn’t sound like Joshua Tree. But others would point to the inevitable single track on each album that did sound like Joshua Tree, then wave it in the band’s face: Can’t you do anything original?

You can divide U2’s music into roughly three phases: 1979-1983 (Boy through War), 1984-1989 (Unforgettable Fire through Rattle and Hum), and 1991-1997 (Achtung Baby through Pop). Although the band has reinvented itself with every album — sometimes for the better and sometimes not — they tend to hold on to their sound for a couple of albums at a time before they make major changes.

But the album title might as well be referring to those sonic changes: This album manages to incorporate all of those previous sounds while not sounding too much like any of the previous albums. You could take the defining song off any previous U2 album, drop it randomly into this album’s mix, and it would manage to fit.

The Edge’s jangly guitar? It’s there. Larry Mullen’s precise, militaristic drumming? It’s there. Adam Clayton’s low, thumping bass? It’s there. And of course, there’s also Bono’s wailing vocals. The experimentation? That’s there too, and that’s the bit that always scares people.

Make no bones about it: U2 is a rock band, and this is a rock record. But listen closely, and the experimental elements are still there. The synths are there. The sequencers are there. So is the drum machine. In fact, they lead off the album. But whereas in the past they have sometimes been the focus, now they complement the band’s sound rather than defining it.

They pull out a unexpected tricks as well. Listening to “When I Look At the World” for the first time, I half expected to hear Frankie Vallie filling in on lead vocals. Bono’s soaring falsetto doesn’t reach as high anymore as Vallie did in his prime, but the crafty veteran vocalist makes what he has left work. Meanwhile, in the tracks “New York” and “Grace,” Bono manages to out-Lou Reed the real article, though as a closer “Grace” is just not up there with U2’s great closing tracks of the past (War’s “40,” Achtung Baby’s “Love is Blindness,” Pop’s “Wake Up Dead Man,” or Joshua Tree’s “Mothers of the Disappeared”).

The biggest surprise is track 8. In that track, titled “In A Little While,” U2 finally succeeds in sounding soulful. So much of Rattle and Hum was contrived, a bunch of Irish guys in their late 20s trying to sound like B.B. King or Bob Dylan, and they clearly hadn’t lived long enough yet to pull it off. Now in their early 40s, they nail it.

The opening track and first single, “Beautiful Day,” is a good introduction to the album. That song’s sonic elements are for the most part present throughout. Like most U2 songs, to the casual listener it sounds good immediately. As one who picks apart lyrics, I initially didn’t like the song because it seemed too superficial. So what if it’s a beautiful day? Even a no-talent Kurt Cobain wannabe like Gavin Rossdale can say that! Only upon closer listening does the real meaning surface: the story of someone who has lost everything, yet never felt better. That sounds a lot like me. It probably sounds like you too, or someone you know.

So, how’s it stack up? Most people rank War and The Joshua Tree as U2’s finest albums. I buck convention and place Achtung Baby (their amazing 1991 comeback) and Boy (their 1980 international debut) ahead of those two. At the bottom, I’d rank October, Rattle and Hum, Zooropa, The Unforgettable Fire, and Pop. All That You Can’t Leave Behind definitely blows away the lesser five albums.

However, the album falls a bit flat after the first four delightful tracks. It picks it back up again for a track or two here and there, but the immediate greatness that grabbed you when you first heard The Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby just isn’t there throughout. And the superstrong emotions that drove and held together those great albums aren’t here.

This is probably the album of the year, and many bands go their entire careers without recording anything as good as U2’s worst. This effort borders on greatness, but just doesn’t quite manage to cross over.

Strong points: The first four tracks.
Weak points: “Peace on Earth;” “Wild Honey;” “In a Little While,” though good, doesn’t seem to fit (seems to be there only to settle a bet from 1989); “Grace” is a good track but ill-suited to end a U2 album.

And a survey. I’m considering a one-day-per-page format, like Frank McPherson and Chris Ward-Johnson use. When marking up by hand, a weekly format is much easier. When using Manilla, it really makes no difference.

If you don’t want to join the site in order to vote, feel free to just e-mail me. Members can vote here. (I do wish there was an option to open discussions and voting to non-members. I can see why some people would want to require membership, but that should be optional. So it goes.)

~~~~~~~~~~

From: “Dan Bowman” < DanBowman@att.net >
To: <dfarq@swbell.net>
Sent: Saturday, October 28, 2000 11:03 AM
Subject: Music reviews

Now I’m really glad I spent my discretionary funds yesterday! After reading your review (the class is watching a movie while I make copies),
I’m real tempted to pick up the album.
Then again, I have a Costco run set for after class…

Have a great weekend,

dan

~~~~~~~~~~

Don’t look too hard; it’s not available until Tuesday. I got a chance to hear it a few times and I got sick of seeing reviews from people who just listened to the 15-second clips available on the music store sites and said, “This is the best U2 album ever!” based on that, so I wrote it up. Good practice anyway. I think it’s been 3 1/2 years since I’ve written a music review of any significant length.

I wanted to strike a balance between “this may be the year’s best album” and “this is the best album ever!” because it’s not (it’s not even U2’s best).  Hopefully I did that. But I remember when I wrote up a review of Pearl Jam’s No Code in 1996, people said I was too harsh and shouldn’t have compared it to the past (though looking at that album’s longevity or lack thereof, I’m inclined to think I was right).

Reviews are tricky business but I want to stay in practice, so I may start doing a review a week just to get and stay sharp.

10/27/2000

Poor Windows 98 Network Performance. The MTU once again reared its ugly head at work yesterday. A 1.5 meg file was taking five minutes to copy. Forget about copying anything of respectable size–we’re talking about an all-day affair here. A perplexed colleague called me and asked why. Once again I suspected MTU tinkering. After setting the MTU back to the default of 1500 (the best value to use on a LAN), we were able to copy a 53-meg file in about 30 seconds, which was of course a tremendous improvement.

Once again, don’t run the MTU optimizers on computers that’ll be used on a LAN. The slight increase in modem speed isn’t worth crippling your network performance.

Basic Mac/PC networking. A friend passed along a question about how to build a network either a Mac or a PC could talk on. That can become a complex subject (I wonder if it’s worthy of a book?), but here are the basics.

If all you need is for the Macs to talk to Macs and PCs to talk to PCs, go to the local computer store and pick up a 100-megabit hub with enough ports to accomodate your machines, cables for your Macs, and network cards for your PCs if they don’t already have them. Get a quality hub and cards–the only really inexpensive brand I trust anymore is Netgear, and the general consensus is that 3Com and Intel are better still, though they’ll cost you more. I’ve been bitten by enough failures to decide that $15 network cards and $25 hubs just aren’t worth the trouble.

The Macs should just start talking via the AppleTalk protocol once you direct AppleTalk to the Ethernet port through the AppleTalk control panel. The PCs will need network card drivers installed, then they can use TCP/IP, NetBEUI or IPX/SPX to communicate. Best to use TCP/IP to limit the number of protocols on your network. Assign your PCs and Macs IP addresses in the 192.168.1.x range, with a subnet mask of 255.255.255.0. You don’t need to worry about the gateway or router settings unless you’ll be using the network to provide Internet access as well.

If you want Internet access, you can add an inexpensive cable/DSL router for about $150 that will serve your PCs and Macs without any problems. Assign your router to 192.168.1.1.

Most mid-range HP and Lexmark laser printers will accept a network card capable of talking to both PCs and Macs.

If you want to share files cross-platform, you’re looking at some bucks. You’ll want a Windows NT or 2000 server (AppleShare IP will talk to both, but it’s not as reliable as NT unfortunately), which will set you back about $1000 for the software. Alternatively, you could install DAVE ( www.thursby.com ), a product that makes Macs speak SMB over TCP/IP like Windows boxes will, so they can use Windows file shares and Windows-hosted printers.

I also see that Thursby is offering a program called MacSOHO, at $99, to accomodate PC/Mac networks. This isn’t suitable for large networks but for a small-scale LAN in the home, small business, school computer lab or church, it should suffice. You can download a trial version before you plunk down the cash.

10/26/2000

That Mac problem again. I snuck up to that Mac server I was referring to earlier this week, you know, the one that was beyond my capability to fix? I continue to maintain that no Mac is beyond any experienced tech’s capability to fix (just like no PC is beyond an experienced tech’s ability to fix). However, a Mac is a high-maintenance machine. Normal, typical use of a Mac will cause numerous filesystem errors to build up over time. I’ve heard of people running the full battery of utilities suites once a week to keep their Macs happy. Once a month is probably adequate for most.

Anyway, on with the story. The whole department was out for a long lunch, which gave me an hour and a half. That’s long enough to run DiskWarrior and TechTool Pro (this machine has seven drives on it, and some of them are in excess of seven years old so it takes a while). They marveled that afternoon about how their problem had corrected itself. Can a PC do that?

Grrr…. Sure it can. Especially if a tech can get some time alone with it.

Ray, Ray, Ray… Why aren’t you running your site on Lotus Domino and Solaris or AIX? I try to connect to Groovenetworks.com, and what do I get?

Error Occurred While Processing Request
Error Diagnostic Information
An error occurred while attempting to establish a connection to the service.

The most likely cause of this problem is that the service is not currently running. You can use the ‘Services’ Control Panel to verify that the service is running and to restart it if necessary.

Windows NT error number 2 occurred.

On the other hand, an up-and-down Web server is a very good indication that people want your product.

Now that I’ve seen some screenshots and read some more interviews to get into Ray Ozzie’s mind a little deeper, I’m starting to get Groove. This isn’t so much warmed-over Notes, I think, as it is instant messaging done right. It’s instant messaging. It’s file transfer. It’s got a sketchpad for drawing ideas for sharing. Of course there’s a Web browser window. It’s infinitely extensible (like Notes). And it’ll let you talk voice if you prefer.

I did finally manage to download it but I haven’t had a chance to install and play with it yet. But I can already think of ways I’d use it. I’d even collaborate with myself. Leave stuff I need frequently in my Groove space on my machines at work. So what if I’m in the wrong building, or worse yet, I’m at home? No problem, connect to myself and get it. (Don’t laugh; if you think instant messaging myself is bad, you’ll love the fact that I sometimes send packages to myself.) For people like me who are called upon to do three peoples’ jobs, this could be a Godsend. And once those other two people get hired, we can still use Groove to work together.

Bigger than Netscape 1.0? I think those predictors have gotten sucked into the Cult of Ray a little too deep. Is it a big deal? Oh yeah. Bigger than Notes? Probably.

As for multiplatform support… Groove opted to support, for now, the 85-90 percent of the market that runs Windows. In interviews, Ray Ozzie has said Linux and Mac OS X ports will appear. Seeing as three years ago, Linux looked poised to become a force in the server arena but not yet on the desktop and the classic Mac OS looked to be replaced any day with what became Mac OS X, it looks to me like the company made a practical decision to go with what they knew would be around and adjust course as needed. Notes eventually appeared on every major platform, which contributed to its success. I have no doubt Groove will probably follow. I’m certainly not going to hold it against him that the only version to have reached beta is Win32.

Abandoned intellectual property

Abandoned Intellectual Property. I read a piece on this subject at OSOpinion over the weekend, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. There are, of course, a lot of people calling for abolition of copyright or radical changes. This is, believe it or not, one of the tamer proposals I’ve read.

I’m definitely of two minds on this one. Take my first ever publication for money, in 1991. Compute Magazine, before Bob Guccione had managed to totally ram it into the ground, opted to buy my spring break project I collaborated on with a friend. We were writing a video game for the Commodore 64 and 128 and we were getting tired of trying to draw the title screen manually with graphics commands (bad enough on the 128 which had Basic commands to do such things, but on the 64 you were talking peeks and pokes all over the place–someone really should have written this thing back in 1982!) so we wrote a program to do the work for us. You loaded the sprites, moved ’em around, hit a key, and it gave you the Basic code to re-create the screen, suitable for inclusion in your program. We never finished the game, but we got a cool $350 and international recognition (OK, so it was a dwindling audience, but how many high school kids can say they’re published authors at age 16?).

Now, the problem. General Media whittled Compute down until it was basically just another PC mag, abandoning the multiplatform support that made it so great (I read about my beloved Commie 8-bits but still got the opportunity to learn about Macs, Amigas and PCs–what could be better?), market share continued to dwindle, and eventually Guccione and GM sold out to Ziff-Davis, who fulfilled your subscription with a choice of mags (I remember I opted for PC/Computing). So the copyright went to Ziff-Davis, who never did anything with the old Compute stuff. A few years later, Ziff-Davis fell on hard times and eventually hacked itself up into multiple pieces. Who owns the old Compute stuff now? I have no idea. The copyrights are still valid and enforcable. I seriously doubt if anyone cares anymore whether you have the Nov. 1991 issue of Compute if you’re running MOB Mover on your 64/128 or emulator, but where do you go for permission?

The same goes for a lot of old software. Sure, it’s obsolete but it’s useful to someone. A 68020-based Mac would be useful to someone if they could get software for it. But unless the original owner still has his/her copies of WriteNow, Aldus SuperPaint and Aldus Persuasion (just to name a few desirable but no-longer-marketable abandoned titles) to give you, you’re out of luck. Maybe you can get lucky and find some 1995 era software to run on it, but it’ll still be a dog of a computer.

But do we have an unalienable right to abandoned intellectual property, free of charge? Sure, I want the recordings Ric Ocasek made with his bands before The Cars. A lot of people want to get their hands on that stuff, but Ocasek’s not comfortable with that work. Having published some things that I regret, I can sympathize with the guy. I like how copyright law condemns that stuff to obscurity for a time. (Hopefully it’d be obscure in the public domain too because it’s not very good, but limiting the number of copies that can exist clinches it.)

Obscurity doesn’t mean no one is exploited by stealing it. I can’t put it any better than Jerry Pournelle did.

I don’t like my inability to walk into record stores and buy Seven Red Seven’s Shelter or Pale Divine’s Straight to Goodbye or The Caulfields’ Whirligig, but I couldn’t easily buy them in 1991 when they were still in print either. But things like that aren’t impossible to obtain: That’s what eBay and Half.com are for.

For the majority of the United States’ existence, copyright law was 26 years, renewable for another 26. This seems to me a reasonable compromise. Those who produce content can still make a living, and if it’s no longer commercially viable 26 years later, it’s freely available. If it’s still viable, the author gets another 26-year-ride. And Congress could sweeten the deal by offering tax write-offs for the premature release of copyrighted material into the public domain, which would offer a neat solution to the “But by 2019, nobody would want WriteNow anymore!” problem. Reverting to this older, simpler law also solves the “work for hire” problem that exploits musicians and some authors.

All around, this scenario is certainly more desirable for a greater number of people than the present one.

From: Bruce Edwards

Dear Dave:

I am having a crazy computer problem which I am hoping you or your readers may be able to give me a clue to.  I do have this posted on my daily journal, but since I get very little traffic, I thought your readership or
yourself may be able to help.  Here’s the problem:

My wife’s computer suddenly and inexplicably became very slow when accessing web sites and usually when accessing her e-mail.  We access the internet normally through the LAN I installed at home.  This goes to a Wingate machine which is connected to the aDSL line allowing shared access to the internet.

My computer still sends and receives e-mail and accesses the web at full speed.  Alice’s computer now appears to access the web text at about the speed of a 9600 baud modem with graphics coming down even more slowly if at
all.  Also, her e-mail (Outlook Express) usually times out when going through the LAN to the Wingate machine and then out over the internet.  The LAN is working since she is making a connection out that way.

File transfer via the LAN between my PC and hers goes at full speed. Something is causing her internet access to slow to a crawl while mine is unaffected.  Also, it appears to be only part of her internet access.  I can
telnet out from her computer and connect to external servers very fast, as fast as always.  I know telnet is just simple text, but the connection to the server is very rapid too while connecting to a server via an http
browser is much much slower and then, once connected, the data flows so slow it’s crazy.

Also, dial-up and connect to the internet via AOL and then use her mail client and (external to AOL) browser works fine and is as speedy as you would expect for a 56K modem.  What gives?

I tried reinstalling windows over the existing set-up (did not do anything) and finally started over from “bare metal” as some like to say.  Reformat the C drive.  Reinstall Windows 98, reinstall all the drivers, apps, tweak the configuration, get it all working correctly.  Guess what?  Same slow speed via the aDSL LAN connection even though my computer zips out via the
same connection.  Any suggestions?

Sincerely,

Bruce W. Edwards

~~~~~~~~~~

Hi Bruce,

The best thing I can think of is your MTU setting–have you run any of those MTU optimization programs? Those can have precisely the effect you describe at times. Try setting yor MTU back to 1500 and see what that does. While I wholeheartedly recommend them for dialup connections, MTU tweaking and any sort of LAN definitely don’t mix–to the point that I almost regret even mentioning the things in Optimizing Windows.

Short of that, I’d suggest ripping out all of your networking protocols and adapters from the Network control panel and add back in TCP/IP and only the other things you absolutely need. This’ll keep Windows from getting confused and trying to use the wrong transport, and eliminate the corrupted TCP/IP possibility. These are remote, but possible. Though your reinstall should have eliminated that possibility…

If it’s neither of those things, I’d start to suspect hardware. Make sure you don’t have an interrupt conflict (rare these days, but I just saw one a couple weeks ago so I don’t rule them out). Also try swapping in a different cable or NIC in your wife’s machine. Cables of course go bad more frequently than NICs, though I’ve had horrible luck with cheap NICs. At this point I won’t buy any ethernet NIC other than a Bay Netgear, 3Com or Intel.

I hope that helps. Let me know how it goes for you.

10/24/2000

The death of the PC. Jesse Berst wrote today about the decline of PCs. I made a similar prediction about four years ago in my defunct newspaper column. My observations were strangely familiar: PCs are used mostly for word processing, e-mail, and games. A dedicated word processor costs $200. A WebTV costs $200. A game console costs $150, and a top-of-the-line one costs $300. Unless PCs improve dramatically at these functions and/or come way down in price, they’ll die because it just doesn’t make sense for anyone but an enthusiast to buy one.

What happened? PCs came down in price and got faster and fancier. WebTV struggled. Smith-Corona went out of business. Game consoles did OK. But today, 51 percent of US households own PCs.

The machines changed. And I expect they’ll continue to change. Berst is premature if he thinks the PC is on its deathbed.

Ray Ozzie’s back! Ray Ozzie, the legendary father of Lotus Notes, is finally talking (a little) about his new project. Some people are saying his new product, Groove, could be as revolutionary as Netscape 1.0 was. That seems to be hype.

Groove is essentially de-centralized groupware: Notes meets Napster, if you will. Cool idea, sure, but do we need it? I’m not sure. This seems like warmed-over Notes to me. As much as I love Notes, I’m not sure it’s the killer app. Maybe this re-iteration of that idea will bring groupware to the masses, but I don’t know.

I’m not exactly lucid this morning. I felt a lot better last night, then this morning… blech. I wondered why I came into work, but if I hadn’t, I’d have wondered why as well. Funny how you always feel better at home than at work. Too bad my job doesn’t really allow telecommuting.

Ten Web Site Sins. I just got a pamphlet at work for a Web design class, where they list 10 things not to do. Mostly excessive animation, slow load times, frivolous graphics, stuff like that. The only no-no I do is “Don’t have excessive scrolling.” I’m torn about the daily view versus the weekly view. So I set it to a weekly view; those who prefer the daily can still click the links on the calendar. For a text-oriented site like this, it’s really hard to avoid scrolling. And besides, hitting the page down key is easier on the hands and wrists than clicking all over the place. It’s a good thing I don’t know off the top of my head who invented the mouse, because there are few worse things you can do to your body…

I think going 9-for-10 is pretty good, and every rule is breakable if you can justify it. So I decided to skip that class.

10/23/2000

Quittin’ time. That means a big bowl of chicken soup, reflection and mail. I usually make my own, but yesterday when I was getting sickness supplies I also picked up some of the instant powdered stuff. Faster that way.

A Mac tech at his limits. One of the organizations I support has asked permission to bring in an outside consultant because they’ve, in something close to their words, found a problem Dave can’t seem to solve. Never mind they didn’t ask me to fix it. And never mind they’re probably chasing the Bogeyman. In my estimation, 90% of Mac problems are either related to extensions conflicts or disk/filesystem errors. This machine loads maybe a dozen extensions, so that’s not an issue. But it’s a wannabe server, so of course it has filesystem errors constantly.

Not that that’s the issue. Find me a tech who isn’t almost always at his/her limits. If they aren’t, they’re not growing. This industry’s so constantly changing that it’s nearly impossible to stay away from the fringes of your knowledge.

And good night. My songwriting partner asked me to call him today if my voice was cooperating. It seems to be. I wrote no usable lyrics yesterday. But I can give him a leftover that I wrote back in 1997 or early 1998. It’s a total Seven Red Seven ripoff, but seeing as that band’s hardly a household name, I don’t think anyone will know, and the song I ripped off from was itself a ripoff of Depeche Mode’s Never Let Me Down Again. That’s all assuming we even use the thing, of course.

I’d best make that phone call… Mail’s all answered and sent, so it may make an appearance tonight. Otherwise, look for it tomorrow.

Strange Windows development. While working on one Win98 box, I decided to see if I could figure out once and for all the optimal disk cache settings for Win98 on another. The preliminary answer is very surprising. On this partcular machine at least, 3072 bytes (3 megs) seems optimal. With higher settings, you get slightly (and I mean slightly) higher benchmarks, insignificant enough to appear not worth investing even one more meg. The difference between 4 megs and anything higher is even less significant.

I’ll have to try this out with some other systems and other benchmarks, of course. I figured optimal wouldn’t be any higher than 8 megs, but I’m a bit surprised to see it at 3. Optimal may depend greatly on the drive involved, however. But I thought a good percentage of you would be interested in that.

Whatever the results, it appears the conventional wisdom of using 1/4 to 1/8 your system RAM for disk caching may be incorrect, at least on today’s high-memory PCs.

I see Naviscope mistakes my logo for an ad. I’ll have to rename the file to fix that. Naviscope is an ad/cookie blocking program that doubles as a DNS cache. A Linux box sitting on your network is more versatile and capable at both, but Naviscope is easier.

Want a real computer? Amiga has changed its mind yet again about the hardware aspect of its strategy. Will we be running on commodity hardware? At least not exclusively, if The Register has its story straight. Unfortunately, at this point I’m afraid anything they might do is likely to be too little, too late. It’s hard for any system, no matter how good it is, to survive seven years of stagnation. Sure, Amiga was 8-10 years ahead of its time. In 1985. By 1993, their lead was really dwindling. And of course, by 1995 the masses got preemptive multitasking and everything else they would have had if they’d bought an Amiga in the first place. And they didn’t seem to mind the wait. That last bit troubles me, but hey.

I’d still love to see them come back and mop up the floor using the rest of the industry (Microsoft and Apple need some humiliation), but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Outta here. I seem to have caught cold, so I’m going to cut myself short. Hopefully it’ll be a slow day at work so I don’t run myself into the ground.