eMachine upgrade advice

I got some mail some time back about eMachine upgrades that I never got around to posting. I’ll just summarize because that’s easier (it keeps me off the mouse).
First off, definitely look into a new hard drive. You can pick up a 7200-rpm drive of decent size (10-15 gig) for under $100 these days. I’ve had trouble getting Western Digital drives to work with older disk controllers, but no problems with Maxtors, and I get better performance and reliability from Maxtors anyway.

Next, eMachines tend to have problems with their power supplies. Get a replacement from PC Power & Cooling. It’s $45. Cheap insurance. And chances are the hard drive will perform better, since the PCP&C box will actually be supplying the wattage it claims to supply (which may or may not be true of the factory box). And remember: low-cost PCs have always had skimpy power supplies. Commodore and Atari made great low-cost computers 20 years ago, but they had horrendous power supplies. Given a properly made third-party power supply, a Commodore or Atari could run for 10-15 years or more (and often did).

Finally, get 128 megs of RAM in the system somehow. If you’ve got 32, just go buy a 128-meg stick. If you’ve got 64, get a 64-meg stick or, if you can afford it, get a 128.

Since eMachines have pretty wimpy integrated video, you might also look into a PCI video card with a Matrox, nVidia or 3Dfx chipset. Matrox gives slightly better 2D display quality, while nVidia and 3Dfx give better speed with 3D games. If you’re into gaming, definitely look into a new card.

That’s the strategy I follow with any upgrade. Get a modern disk in there, then get more memory, and replace anything else that seems underpowered. Do the disk first, then deal with memory, then possibly the video. Then, and only then, do I start looking at CPU upgrades. I’ve turned 200-MHz junkers into very useful machines again just by adding memory and a fast disk. The CPU isn’t the bottleneck in most systems.

Protecting your privacy online

If you’re concerned about Amazon, or online privacy in general… On a serious note, Amazon’s policies are gathering attention. As one who, as Pournelle puts it, “makes a living showing off” (and I have more or less since the age of 16), I’ve never worried about privacy. I quickly got used to the idea that if I drove down to Rally’s for a burger, there was a decent chance that someone who knew who I was would see me doing it, and that didn’t bother me much. Once I started seriously writing about computers, I couldn’t go into computer stores without getting a bunch of questions, not to mention introductions (“Hey! This is Dave Farquhar, the computer columnist for the Missourian!”) And of course people wanted to know what I was buying and what I thought of it and/or what I was planning to do with it. That didn’t bother me much either. If people like the stuff I write and respect my opinion enough to care that I like Rally’s hamburgers and Maxtor hard drives, well, that’s a high compliment.
It was a little different after I moved to St. Louis–I had a big crowd of people to lose myself in, but I still have far less privacy than the Average Joe.

Privacy? Never had it. Never really wanted it. But, as one of my friends at work is so fond of pointing out, “We’re not all like you.”

So. How to solve the Amazon (or other Web site) problem if you’re not like me? Spread misinformation. How? Easy. Go get Proxomitron, which, in addition to blocking ads, offers to reject all cookies for you. It also offers to lie about your referring page (it always says you came from a Shoenen Knife fan site), your browser version, browser type, and even your OS (the default is Win67, which makes for some good questions. Windows 1967? Windows 2067? 67-bit Windows?). If you’re paranoid that too many people will use Proxomitron and see the pattern, you can edit the filters yourself. (Try telling ’em you’re running Internet Explorer 7.0 under CP/M 2.2. That’ll get a laugh.) It’s a nice tool.

Remember, incorrect information is far worse than no information. If you want to stop people from gathering information, the trick isn’t to refuse. It’s to give them misinformation. I’m a professional information gatherer. Trust me on this.

Comeback trail marred by junk browsers

Another browser. You’ve probably heard of Galeon, but have you heard of K-Meleon? Win32 browser, looks like IE, uses the Gecko engine. It’s missing a number of usability features, such as the only reasons I use IE (and the only reasons are the ctrl-enter autocompletion of URLs and the backspace key working as a back button, letting me reduce keystrokes). As soon as K-Meleon improves its arrow key support and adds ctrl-enter, I’ll be apt to change browsers again. Admittedly, I’ve entertained the idea of getting the source and taking a stab at adding the feature myself but I don’t know if I have a C compiler that’ll compile it. Since IE 5.5 makes my Win98 system bluescreen and run slow as a P100, I can’t wait. (Maybe I should run IERadicator to strip out IE entirely, then install IE5 without Active Desktop, but that’s a bit of effort. Hmm.
I’m bitter at IE5.5 because it bluescreened my system last night while I was downloading a rare live version of Aimee Mann’s “Long Shot,” which, while profane, is probably the best song she ever wrote. And wouldn’t you know it, when I came back online, poof, it was gone. But I want to end on a positive note, so I will. K-Meleon lets you create your own keyboard shortcuts. Want F1 to stop? Got it. F2 for your homepage? Got it. Backspace to go back? Got it. And it’s small (2.8 megs) and quick. Definitely a good prospect.

Thanks to the well-wishers. If I responded to each and every one, I’d probably be back where I started, so hopefully this will suffice.

And my inning is up.

Another publication

Published again! Check this out, if you haven’t been there already. One of O’Reilly’s marketing guys dropped me a line early last week and asked how I liked voice recognition software. This die-hard Kansas City Royals fan told him I’d rather see another Yankees/Braves World Series than use it again. Next thing we know, I’m writing about what went wrong and why. For your reading pleasure, a brief essay written by me, with examples that prove my point, Voice Recognition to the Rescue? is available, at O’Reilly.
The big comeback? No. I’m going to do my best to post a little something on something resembling a daily basis. But as my time constraints are tight and my wrists still a little questionable, the days of daily 500-word essays are over.

I notice my book sales are down now that I’m not posting much. I also notice I’m much healthier when I’m not trying to write a half-million words a year. Looks like time for a compromise.

Father’s Day and wrist injuries

Father’s Day… Go find your dad and thank him. If he’s not around anymore, like mine, remember the things he taught you. And use them.
Down again. I can’t say it any better than Ecclesiastes 3:1,7: “There’s a time for everything, a season for every activity under heaven… A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak up.”

I did too much yesterday. Lots of tearing, little mending. So now it’s time to be quiet.

MP3s won’t kill the music industry

Courtney Love is right… I’m the last to bring this up, but last month Love said what every other musician is thinking. Every other sane one at least. Wanna know why Aimee Mann started her own label? Well, let’s see. She releases a record, on a major, the world yawns. It happened four times straight, from 1986 to 1996. The labels aren’t willing to play the payola game for her. She releases a record on her own label, and look at that… She’s #33 on Amazon.com. And for the first time since she first picked up a bass guitar 20 years ago and started a band, she’s making money making music.
It’s only a matter of time before the public at large tires of payola radio and the mega-trust record industry. I’m not saying they’ll implode, but they’ll be selling Hanson and Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears records (or more likely, their successors) while the more enduring artists find other means to get their work into the hands of the public. It’s good to see Love isn’t afraid of the MP3 format.

I’ve always thought, if porn stars can make money by putting up web sites peddling all the dirty pictures you can download for 10 bucks a month, why can’t rock stars make money by offering an all-you-can-download buffet of music files for a similar price? Most artists can’t keep up a song-a-month rate, true, but you don’t have to. Peddle demos. Record all of your concerts and release those tracks. Broadcast your live shows over the ‘Net. Hawk t-shirts at a discount. Set up a Shoutcast stream of your catalog, circumventing radio entirely (I seem to recall The Cure set up a pirate radio station in Britain and called it CURE-FM for this purpose–but Shoutcast, unlike pirate radio, is legal). It gives people a chance to hear your stuff before whipping out the credit card, then if they like it, they can subscribe to the site or buy a CD or eight. (I find it humorous that it’s Nullsoft, a subsidiary of AOL, that could contribute to the undoing of the music industry, of which future AOL subsidiary Time Warner is a major, major player).

True fans eat up rarities and live cuts and gladly pay for it. Yes, I’ve forked over $30 for really cruddy-sounding Joy Division live albums. I’ve also bought all their commercially available cruddy-sounding live albums. Along with the albums that sound like they were recorded in the men’s room. And the remastered boxed set that includes the albums and singles and b-sides and demos, which sounds like it was recorded in a regular studio. Everything but the out-of-print John Peel session (I’m still kicking myself for not buying that when I saw it back in 1995–I haven’t seen it since). I’m what you’d call a fanatic. But I’m not the only Joy Division fanatic out there. And Joy Division isn’t the only band with large numbers of crazy fans like me.

Joy Division milked two albums and two singles and three years of existance for a remarkable amount. You’ve probably never heard of them, but the three surviving members and the lead singer’s widow don’t care, because they’re making a lot more money than any other one-hit wonder from 1980 is. Their medium was vinyl, and later, CD. But they have a following because they made themselves available. With MP3, modern bands can make themselves available for a lot less than Joy Division paid to do it, and they can cut out most of the middlemen.

Trustworthy consulting

Friday, 6/16/00
NT security consulting. I think there’s a special place in hell for recruiters, slimebags that they are, but I’m starting to wonder if that place isn’t next door to the special place for consultants. I took a consulting gig that basically amounts to setting up an NT domain correctly–how many times does one have to say don’t put a server on DHCP, just give it an IP address? It’ll probably also involve building a Linux box to serve as a firewall, since this is a school that suspects its students have been tapping into the office network from the lab and nuking (or possibly changing) files. Kids today, I’ll tell ya…

Putting the two networks on separate NT domains and TCP/IP subnets should make that difficult, but with a Linux box that doesn’t speak SMB sitting between the two networks, it should be impossible. It’s also tempting to just unbind TCP/IP from the MS client and use NetBEUI as the networking protocol in the office for added security. That way, even if someone did manage to get into the Linux box, they still wouldn’t be able to do anything useful.

Come to think of it, with TCP/IP unbound from the MS client, do they even need a firewall? Maybe those extraneous protocols that shipped with Windows are useful for something after all… NetBEUI’s awfully chatty, too chatty for large networks, but this is a small network.

I speak harshly of consultants because my predecessor documented absolutely nothing that he did. I mean, I understand the temptation to make a client dependent on you, but if you do a good job and then hand over total documentation of their network, why on earth would any sane client go to another consultant afterward? Methinks they’d trust you to the death.

Then again, maybe I still have a naive, idealistic view of human nature…

Look out, George Brett… Can’t resist. The company picnic was today, and I played softball. Led off and played catcher (yes, I was the odd catcher batting leadoff, and the odd leadoff batter who can’t run). I went 1-for-2. Thought I stroked a single to right my first at-bat, but it curved foul, and I fanned on the next pitch. Next at-bat, with a runner on and two out, I stroked a single to right. The runner advanced to third on the play; I was thrown out trying to take second on a close play.

I thought swinging the bat would be a good test on my wrists, and it was. They held up. Hitting everything to right field indicates low bat speed, but that’s to be expected I think. I was a bit surprised I could swing the bat at all, let alone do anything productive with it. Now if I’d only stayed at first, because the batter after me led off the next inning with a long homer to center, which would have been a three-run shot if I’d been more conservative.

BIOS tweaking leads to successful Linux install

Thursday, 6/15/00
Power supplies and Linux installs… I swapped out a power supply last night for Steve DeLassus (there’s something mildly amusing about an electrical engineer asking a journalist for help with a power supply issue), and I installed Mandrake 7 on one of my PCs so I could get ready to mess with Apache. It kept dying during install, so I reset the BIOS defaults, after which it worked fine. Probably it was memory timing sensitivity but I didn’t feel like messing with it. Linux is much more sensitive to such things than Windows, which may explain some people’s installation difficulties (I think nothing of messing with my BIOS settings until I get it right, but some people understandably never think to check those). Loading BIOS defaults, or, better yet, safe defaults if available, may tame the beast.

Apache… I’m not going to say I can change the world, but some of the things you can do with Apache are totally out of sight. I can’t wait until I can type well enough again to really start experimenting. I’m no pioneer in doing these things, but if I start explaining how to do them, then I will be. If you think I’m looking at this to be one of the big selling points of the next book, you’re dead on.

Until next week…

Supplements help ailing wrists

Wednesday, 6/14/00
Supplement attacks… The alfalfa continues to help (my right arm is better, in some regards, than it’s been since I popped my elbow trying to throw fastballs in the lower 90s some 10 years ago). Time to ship a big bottle of this stuff to Jose Rosado, to see if it can help his ailing left shoulder so he can come back and help the Royals’ atrocious pitching.

I also added a trio of fatty acids, after Chris Ward-Johnson suggested them. Two of them come from fish oil, the source of the third I can’t remember offhand, but they made sense, since they’re all used not only for inflammation, but also for heart health (since my dad died at 51 of a heart attack, I watch that) and for healthy skin. If something helps three conditions I have, it sounds reasonable that I should take it–by my logic, that sounds like a good indication of a deficiency. I know more about DEC VAX mainframes than I know about these supplements, but I’m learning.

And my chiropractor is impressed with my progress.

When’s comeback time? Hard to say. The new book has to take priority once I’m physically capable of typing in large quantities again. I’ll probably use my small-quantity typing energies to resume editing. Expect me to be more of an Occasionalnoter than a Daynoter for a good while.

Read this if you have an Iomega drive of any sort. More reports of Jaz/Zip problems here. Whether Steve Gibson’s TIP will help is hard to say. But at any rate, I’ve entrusted data to an Iomega product for the last time… Count on it.

‘Scuse me while I go pawn my Zip drive and disks.

Nursing my wrists back to health

Friday, 6/9/00
Dave here… Not back for good yet, but I’m much better today. Thanks go out to all of my well-wishers.

As for treatment… The combination of chiropractics, vitamins and alfalfa seems to be working. My conventional doctors would be aghast, but this stuff’s working, whereas they weren’t interested in listening to what was going on, so until I succeed in finding a local general practitioner who’s interested in listening to patients, I’ll stay this course.

I’m currently on massive doses of alfalfa, which makes me “a freaky hippie vegetarian type who takes it in pill form because he’s too lazy to chew food,” in the opinion of one Tim Coleman. (This–or something very much like it–he said after he asked if I chew my own cud.) Chlorophyl helps joints and cartilige, supposedly, and alfalfa is also rich in a chemical called MSM that according to many sources I’ve found has numerous healing properties. Alfalfa is also reported to be very good at de-toxing the body.

I don’t care so much how it works as much as that it does work. Seeing as it takes an act of Congress to get in to see my regular doctor and he doesn’t have anything useful to say anyway, and a bottle of alfalfa costs $4, I’ll take that route and keep seeing my chiropractor. We’ll know on Monday when he hits me again with the ultrasound how things are going. The less it hurts, the better off I am.

In addition to finding out about alfalfa, my research seems to indicate I’m deficient in magnesium, potasium, and fatty acids (whatever those are). But I’m mostly interested in solving the typing problem. Leg cramps and premature gray hair aren’t keeping me from writing books, after all.

Besides the alfalfa, I’m also on Vitamins E, B complex, and extra vitamin B6. I’ve been on B6 for about a month; the others for a little over a week I think.

Well, I should be in absolute agony by now, but I’m not. I’m going to back off now, though. Your first move after stepping out of the wheelchair shouldn’t be to run the Boston Marathon.

Important disclaimer: I claim to know absolutely nothing about why any of this stuff works and whether it would be suitable for anything. Yes, so my dad, grandfather, and grandmother were all doctors. They knew the human body inside and out and knew nothing about computers. I know computers inside and out and know nothing about the human body, other than that I’ve got one.

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