Optimizing a K6-2

Now I remember why I’m here. I was at my mom’s and stepdad’s, and of course the inevitable topic came up.
“I’ve got Kristin going through your book and implementing some of it,” John says. “Our computer is SLOW.” So you know what I did… I fired it up and gave it a look myself. (Besides, they couldn’t get Duke Nuke ‘Em to run and I’ve been working on an article on getting DOS games running inside Windows so I welcomed the chance to practice.)

The story: It’s an 18-month-old whitebox clone. AMD K6-2/350, 64 megs RAM. No idea what motherboard. Old non-UDMA 4.3-gig hard drive. Trident 9750-based video, and a C-Media ISA sound card. Oh yes, and of course, a Rockwell-based PCI softmodem.

A computer is a team, and what we’ve got here isn’t exactly the computing equivalent of the 1962 Mets, but I’d rate it about as highly as the 1996 Kansas City Royals. Making matters worse, it was loaded down with way too many gee-whiz features. I slimmed it down to what’s necessary, got its boot time down to well under a minute, and got the software running decently.
I’m guessing there are millions of PCs like this one out there. Buying a new one isn’t an answer, because if you buy one PC like this, chances are the next one you buy will have the same problems. You’ll probably get another softmodem. You’ll probably get another cheapo sound and video card. You’ll get a superfast CPU. But the problem is, that’s like adding the 1999 or 2000 edition of Mike Sweeney or Jermaine Dye to the 1996 Royals. You’ve still got a last-place team. The difference is, now you’ve got a last-place team with a .300 hitter or two in the heart of the lineup. Makes the team more fun to watch, and you’ll win a few more games, but the fundamental problem that got you into last place is still there.

Sure, I’d recommend some hardware upgrades for this beast. A SoundBlaster Live! sound card, for sure. An ISA sound card can eat up 35% of available CPU time. The SB Live! uses 1-2 percent. An inexpensive TNT2-based video card, certainly. At about $70, it’ll free up a lot of CPU time and speed the video along. I’d give serious thought to a newer, faster hard drive as well. A Maxtor 30-gigger (5400 rpm but still a massive improvement over this drive) runs $99 at CompUSA this week. Deals like that are common. And it wouldn’t hurt to get a controller-based modem as well. Zoom has such a beast available that’s getting good marks (I need to find the model number) for under $100.

Do all that, and you’re looking at about $350-$400 worth of upgrades. That’s a substantial chunk of a new computer, yes. But it re-uses the stuff that’s still serviceable under the hood. And these peripherals are all good enough to move on if you decide to replace what’s left (essentially, the motherboard).

So there’s a huge market for Optimizing Windows. People need this kind of information. Now, how to get it to them…? O’Reilly hasn’t figured out how to do it. It’s up to me.

Good thing there’s a marketing genius at work I can talk to. I’ll be bouncing this off him this week to see what he thinks. Then I get the first full week of December off. Time for a marketing blitz.

I’m still on the road. So if you’ve e-mailed me, it’ll be a day or two before I can get back to you. I’ll field all that when I get back.

HappyThanksgiving, 2000 edition

Happy Thanksgiving. Mail and everything will wait. I just got home from Thanksgiving Eve services and I’m getting ready to hit the road. I’m not taking a computer with me. Not sure yet what day I’m coming back. Bad for readership, I know, but it’s not like there’ll be much these next few days to write about anyway.

Expect me back in full force Sunday. I may do a short shrift Saturday. I’ll part with a paraphrase from pastor: If you’re grateful, you’re rich, no matter what you have or don’t have.
So, on that note, may God grant us grateful hearts for this great day. Enjoy it, and I’ll be back with you soon.

AMD roadmap and analysis. Finally! Something to analyze. AnandTech posted AMD’s roadmap for the next couple of years sometime yesterday (I missed it). With AMD saying again and again that they aren’t a chipset company, I’m starting to wonder… Why not bring in the necessary engineers to make good, really good chipsets, then outsource manufacturing to NatSemi and/or IBM? That saves AMD’s precious fab capacity–capacity that’s sorely needed to produce profitable CPUs and flash memory–and reduces their dependence on VIA, SiS and ALi, of which only VIA has any kind of a decent track record of late.
Of course, this arrangement would make chipsets even less profitable, which is one of the reasons AMD tries to stay out of that business, but the better your chipsets, the more CPUs you’ll sell. AMD’s currently selling every CPU they can make, but that won’t necessarily last forever. They need to build another fab, and they need to start taking measures now to ensure that there’ll be sufficient demand once that fab is up and going to sell every chip the new fab is capable of producing.

Nothing happened yesterday for me to analyze? That sure doesn’t happen often. I still remember a personality test I took a couple of years ago (I have a friend to thank for reminding me of that test). At my worst, I can be described in two words: overdominant overanalysis.

But yesterday provided next to nothing in the way of analysis fodder. Slow news day. At work, I planned upcoming projects with some higher-ups. And I built shelves. Hey, mindless work is good for you occasionally. One of the women in the office walked by as we were assembling the shelves and said, “I’ll bet you guys love Christmas.” Heh. Except for one thing. I’m single, and the guy I was working with is married but hasn’t started his family yet. So Christmas doesn’t consist of building all that much stuff. But it made me wonder. Do guys start families for the sake of starting families, or to get an excuse to put together and play with toys?

There’s mail. But I’m out of time this morning. As some of you know, I hand mail off to my sister to post, in order to cut down on my keystrokes and mouse movements and give my wrists a break. I suspect Di’s left town for the holiday already, so I’ll see about handling the mail myself tonight, before I skip town for a couple of days. I’ll try to post something while I’m gone, but I won’t have any way of reading my mail on the road.

Boot multiple operating systems for free

~Mail follows today’s post~

XOSL doesn’t seem to like my Promise Ultra66 controller. At least not all the time. I don’t like that. I also don’t like how XOSL installs itself in the root directory–my poor root ballooned to over 40 entries after installing it. That’ll cause some system slowdowns. I don’t like having any more than 16 entries in there if I can avoid it.

Fortunately you can install XOSL to a dedicated partition, and that looks to be the better method.

But when XOSL works, it seems to work well. It’s slick and versatile and gives you a great deal of freedom over how and where you install your OSs, as well as how many you can install (and let’s face it, with 30-gig drives selling for $99 at CompUSA, running multiple operating systems is going to get common).

And I see from Brian Bilbrey’s site that patents may accomplish what the RIAA could not. Makes me wonder why one of the RIAA members didn’t just buy Fraunhofer Institut (who owns the applicable patents on MP3) and start charging outrageous royalties immediately. That’ll kill new technologies faster than anything — just ask Rambus.


From: “Dustin D. Cook” <dcook32p@nospam.htcomp.net>
Subject: Windows Me

Here’s my two cents on Windows Me.

I have been testing this operating system for some time now before I begin pre-installing it on new computers. We’ve run the gamut of stress tests, benchmarks, and usability tests, and we have some interesting results.

All tests were run on multiple machines with a minimum system being an AMD K6-2 500 with 64MB RAM and a Voodoo3 3000 graphics card. The best system tested was an AMD Athlon 1.0 GHz with 512 MB Mushkin PC133 2.0 memory and
a GeForce2 GTS 32MB DDR. We used the same HDD for each machine. It is a Maxtor DiamondMax 45 Plus (ATA/100, 7,200 RPM).

Windows Me should take home a gold medal for speed. It booted quickly, it loaded programs at blistering speeds, and it performed very well in our 3D tests. All-in-all, Windows Me is about one percent faster than Windows 98 SE. This came as something of a surprise to me. I was expecting slightly degraded performance due to the additional system overhead of Internet Explorer 5.5 and the new features of Windows Me. Either Microsoft did some serious “tweaking” to their code, or I’m missing something entirely about this operating system.

Stress tests were a different story. Occasionally, Windows Me would lock-up on us for no apparent reason. The same computer running Windows 98 SE would never falter during our tests. Actually, sometimes Windows Me would lock-up when we were not even running the tests! We replaced some hardware in the machine, but it did this on all of the test PCs. This was a big problem for us. We still haven’t officially tracked down the killer, but we think it involves the new version of Internet Explorer. We had already completed our tests before the new service pack was released, so I don’t have any data from that version. The stress tests involved opening a 25 MB Excel 2000 spreadsheet and minimizing it; open eight browser windows and loading miscellaneous things like Flash movies, several animated GIFs and PNGs, and several Java applications; having The Matrix DVD-ROM’s menu playing in WinDVD 2000; and running Unreal Tournament at 1280x1024x16bpp with our custom “movie”. Windows 98 SE performed admirably, but, as I had mentioned earlier, Windows Me couldn’t do it.

In the usability tests, we had some elderly people try out each computer. This isn’t really a test that can be easily replicated, but overall Windows Me seemed easier for them to use.

What’s my opinion on Windows Me? I think Microsoft made a fairly good product. I’m not very impressed by the lack of native DOS support. I frequently use that to diagnose customer’s computers. What do I do if I have forgotten my boot diskette? I return to the shop and grab one instead of making one right there. The stability issue is a big concern of mine. I’ll try to reproduce those results after downloading the new Internet Explorer service pack, and I’ll write back to you with those results. The speed is commendable. I appreciate the extra “oomph” that Windows Me appears to have behind it. The boot time is quite impressive!

My prize goes to Windows 98 SE. Speed is a very good thing, but when it comes at the cost of stability…we have a problem. My customers don’t want their machine freezing every time they try to open http://thesiliconunderground.editthispage.com/ . 😉


Dustin D. Cook,
A+ Campus Computers
Stephenville, Texas – USA

Thanks for the info!

You can add DOS support back in with a utility available at www.geocities.com/mfd4life_2000 — that was one of the first things I did after installing WinMe. As for stability, IE5.5SP1 might help. Running 98lite (www.98lite.net) to remove IE 5.5, then replacing it with IE 5.01 (or not at all) could help. I’m not at all impressed with IE5.5, so I’m inclined to speculate the blame lies at its clumsy feet.

I’ll keep experimenting with it myself. And I’m hoping my page is simple enough that it won’t crash any browsers. 🙂

Pentium 4 performance is precedented

Thoughts on the Pentium 4 launch. No big surprises: a massively complex new processor design, limited availability, and systems from all the usual suspects, at high prices of course. And, as widely reported previously, disappointing performance.
This isn’t the first time this has happened. The Pentium Pro was a pretty lackluster performer too–it ran 32-bit software great, but Win9x was still the dominant OS at the time and it still has a lot of 16-bit code in it. So a 200 MHz Pentium Pro cost considerably more than a 200 MHz Pentium and for most of the people buying it, was significantly slower. History repeats itself…

Intel revised the Pentium Pro to create the Pentium II, with tweaks to improve 16-bit performance, but of course massive clock speed ramps made that largely irrelevant. Goose the architecture to 600 MHz and you’re going to blow away a 200 MHz previous-generation chip.

That’s what you’re going to see here. Intel fully intends to scale this chip beyond 2 GHz next year, and that’s when you’ll see this chip come into its own. Not before. And by then Intel will probably have changed their socket, (they intend to change it sometime next year) so buying a P4 today gives you no future-proofing anyway.

It never makes sense to be the first on the block with Intel’s newest chip. Never. Ever. Well, if you’re the only one on the block with a computer, then it’s OK. The P4 has issues. The P3 had issues (remember the serial number?) and was really just a warmed-over P2 anyway. The P2 was a warmed-over Pentium Pro. The Pentium Pro had serious performance issues. The Pentium had serious heat problems and it couldn’t do simple arithmetic (“Don’t divide, Intel inside!”). The last new Intel CPU whose only issue was high price was the 486, and that was in April 1989.

Unless you’re doing one of the few things the P4 really excels at (like encoding MP4 movies or high-end CAD), you’re much better off sticking with a P3 or an Athlon and sinking the extra money into more RAM or a faster hard drive. But chances are you already knew that.

Time to let the cat out of the bag. The top-secret project was to try to dual-boot WinME and Win98 (or some other earlier version) without special tools. But Win98’s DOS won’t run WinME, and WinME’s DOS seems to break Win98 (it loads, but Explorer GPFs on boot).

The best method I can come up with is to use the GPL boot manager XOSL. It just seems like more of an achievement to do it without third-party tools, but at least it’s a free third-party tool. You could also do it with LILO or with OS/2’s Boot Manager, but few people will have Boot Manager and LILO will require some serious hocus-pocus. Plus I imagine a lot of people will like XOSL’s eye candy and other gee-whiz features, though I really couldn’t care less, seeing as it’s a screen you look at for only a few seconds at boot time.

Impressions of Windows Me

Afternoon: Short shrift thoughts on WinMe. I’ve got it running on a Celeron-400. I installed a 15GB Quantum Fireball lct I bought some time back and never used for anything, so as to preserve my existing Win98 setup. I see little difference between WinME and 98SE, with a few exceptions:

Improved Defrag. Defrag’s speed now rivals that of a third-party package. It still won’t give the results that a well-tuned Norton SpeedDisk will, but at least the days of 18-hour defrags are over.

Improved boot times. When I saw people bragging that WinME made their systems boot in a minute and a half, I was hardly impressed. I can get even Win95 to boot many systems in under 30 seconds. WinME booted this C400 in 15 seconds. I did the boot speed tricks out of Optimizing Windows, and got the boot time down to 14 seconds. So Microsoft has obviously streamlined the boot process considerably. The old tricks still work, but don’t give much improvement. But what would you rather do, pay $50 or $90 for a faster boot time, or spend 5 minutes streamlining your MSDOS.SYS file?

Stability. WinME is a bit more solid on this C400 than vanilla Win98 was. I’m currently serenading my neighbors with an MP3 tune from A Flock of Seagulls (I’m sure they appreciate it) while I’m on the Web. That was a great way to make the system bluescreen before. Of course, that could just be due to a fresh installation as well. That 98 installation is about 14 months old, so it’s due for a scrubdown.

Speaking of sound… I bought the SB Live! card in this machine mostly for its voice recognition abilities, but the sound quality coming out of this thing is far greater than any other sound card I’ve seen. If you’re in the market for a sound card, give Creative’s SoundBlaster Live! series a long, hard look. Now that their main competition is buried I don’t know how long they’ll keep making good stuff, but this card is something else.

Morning: I finally did it. I did what I recommend no one do. I bought a copy of Windows ME last night. I’m making a bit of a living writing about 9x, so I had no choice. I’m writing a Windows optimization series for Computer Shopper UK, and I have to cover ME because that’s what an increasing number of people have.

I could review it here but I doubt I’ll bother. I can’t imagine anyone would be interested. The best advice for any Microsoft 9x product is to not buy it unless you buy a new PC that comes with it. That was true for four years, and with ME’s lack of backward compatibility with DOS, it’s probably even more true.

My new project is starting to rival the ramdisk project in difficulty. Windows ME appears to be faster and more stable than its predecessors but I don’t like the installation program. It seems to take liberties I wish it wouldn’t with the existing Windows directories it finds. Why do I care about that? You’ll find out if I’m successful — I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up yet. Plus a little air of mystery is always a good thing.


From: “Dustin D. Cook” <dcook32p@nospam.htcomp.net>
Subject: Memory Brands

First let me say that I’m probably not the first person to question your choice in memory, and I probably won’t be the last.

Have you ever heard of a company called Mushkin, Inc.? They were just purchased by Enhanced Memory Systems (the fine makers of the first PC-150 SDRAM chip and HSDRAM modules). I have used Mushkin’s memory modules for a little over one year now, and I must say that I have been very pleased. Out of several hundred of these parts that I have sold to my clients, only one such module has ever failed. The best part: it worked fine until their building was directly struck by lightning.

Read Anand Tech’s “PC133 SDRAM Roundup – April 2000” here http://www.anandtech.com/showdoc.html?i=1213 . You’ll be amazed at the performance of the Mushkin modules. Unfortunately, this performance comes at a cost. Their 128 MB High-performance revision 2.0 modules cost $166.00 each. (I get a small discount since I’m a reseller, and I order in large quantities. This price is retail.)

These modules are also very stable. I’m using mine with my timings set for “Turbo”, my CAS Latency set for “2”, and my memory clock at “133 MHz” in the CMOS setup. Using both Windows 2000 Professional SP1 and SuSE Linux 6.4, I have not yet had a lockup or error. The system has been running stable for almost three months.

I have used Micron memory in the past, and I will probably use them again. If a customer either does not want to pay the price for the Mushkin parts, or they simply don’t believe me when I tell them that those few extra dollars almost guarantees a more stable and higher performing part, then I will gladly sell them the Crucial/Micron memory. I don’t want to keep pushing something that I know my customers won’t buy.

My point is this: since you’re recommending parts based on “money is no object” then you should go with the best parts available. I believe Mushkin fulfills that role.


Dustin D. Cook Campus Computers Stephenville, TX – USA

PS: I really enjoyed your book on optimizing Windows. I have used many of those tips to enhance my Windows 98 machine at home. Thanks for the great information!

Subject: (no subject)

Well, all this time of posting that picture of your book “Optimizing Windows” paid off. I saw it in the store today and bought a copy.

I don’t know if it’s such a good idea to post a picture of yourself, though: I have vinyl records older than you.
(What are vinyl records?)


Thanks! I hope you enjoy it and find it useful.
Hmm, vinyl records. LPs spun at 33 1/3 rpm; singles came on smaller discs that spun at 45 rpm. Older records spun at 78 rpm. You had to put little plastic inserts in the holes in 45s so you could play them on most turntables. I read about them in history class.
Actually, I bought records in the early 1980s. I think CDs became commercially available in 1983 but they sure weren’t commonplace until later–I know the first recording to sell a million copies on CD was U2’s The Joshua Tree, in 1987. I didn’t get a CD player until 1989, so until then I was buying records and tapes. I know around here somewhere I have vinyl records older than me too.
Not sure if my age is a disadvantage or not. I frequently tell people that computers are the only thing large numbers of people want a 25-year-old’s opinion on. I spend enough time talking about Amigas that people probably figure out pretty fast that I didn’t become interested in computers in the 1990s. I was always fascinated with them (I first saw one in 1981) and from second grade on, we had them in school. I was writing simple programs when I was 10, and by the time I was 15 I had enough confidence to take them apart and work on them. There are plenty of writers with as much or more computer experience, but there won’t be very many who’ve spent as great a percentage of their lives with them.
I know when I was selling the things, the younger you looked, the more credibility you had. Then again, people equate age with wisdom, and I grew a beard mostly because it gives me a few years and I notice the difference at work. I’ll probably change the photo at some point, but for now I’ll see how this one flies.

From: Dan Bowman <DanBowman@nospam.worldnet.att.net&gt;
Subject: Okay, I’ll parallel you…

I picked up a Compaq on clearance at Office Depot as a kid’s present for Christmas. I’ll be firing it up this week to see what I can see. “Me” is the base install.
Off to sing and learn and have a good time,

Cool. So far I don’t see anything in WinMe that I object to, and maybe, just maybe, there’s enough in it for the $50 “limited time” step-up from 98/98SE to be worth it (especially if you can get it at a slightly discounted price). If your system is old enough to be running Win95, however, I see no use for it. There aren’t enough new features to be worth the $90 going rate and the system is likely to be marginal enough that WinMe will be a slug on it.
The Zip folders feature is nice, making working with Zip files in Explorer just like working with any old folder. That saves you whatever WinZip costs and I think I like it better. Internet Connection Sharing, of course, is a must for some people. Those two make it worth upgrading from vanilla Win98. I can’t comment yet on stability or compatibility.

Spinrite, Mac troubleshooting, and elections

SpinRite is your friend. Gatermann was telling me about instability with one of his Win98 boxes; he re-installed about 6 times with no better results when he ran SpinRite on his drive. It found tons of bad sectors that Scandisk wasn’t finding. He swapped out the drive and Win98 went back to its normal rate of instability.

Unfortunately, SpinRite doesn’t yet support NTFS, making it less useful for those who run NT or W2K.

More Mac troubleshooting. If your Mac crashes while printing, there’s a decent chance it’ll crash at bootup immediately afterward. I was troubleshooting a startup problem on a G4 and spent a good two hours before I noticed a document in one of the printer icons on the desktop. I rebooted without extensions, opened each printer and deleted any and all documents in them, and rebooted again. Then the G4 went back to its normal rate of instability.

Election “troubleshooting.” If you’re wondering why recounts can be different each time, here’s a perspective you’re not finding in the mainstream media from WorldNetDaily. You probably suspect, like I do, that this is less about recounts than it is about looking for Gore votes. It may actually be manufacturing Gore votes.

These guys are definitely right-leaning, which bothers me about as much as left-leaning, but at least they’re honest and not trying to push leftist coverage off as objective.

I continue to contend that objective coverage is very difficult, if not impossible, but that doesn’t matter because no one even wants to practice objective news coverage anymore. That’s why I left the news business.

Impressions of Netscape 6

I’ll be back in a bit. With preliminary impressions of Netscape 6. My notes on it are at work, but I’ll give you the overall. I’m thinking C+. It worked OK for me and it was fast. There were things about it that annoyed me though. I very badly want to use a non-Microsoft product, because I detest Microsoft, but IE has a couple of features that save me a lot of keystrokes and I have to think of that.

Assuming it manages to install, chances are there’ll be things about it you like. The things that bother me most are features that Netscape used to have but now don’t. But for basic browsing it’s much better than its predecessors.

I’ll get the rest of the details up here within a few hours.

My notes on Netscape 6. This is pretty rough, but I don’t have time to pretty it up.

Speed: Good. Very comparable to IE in most regards and sometimes faster, though still not as fast when rendering nested tables. On a P2/350 it’s hard to tell a difference. Program loads very slowly however (20+ seconds on that P2/350).

Stability: So-so if you can manage to get it installed. Installation problems galore; seemed stable under NT4 once I got it running. Under heavy use it didn’t crash on me once. However, numerous attempts to get Java plug-in working failed. I never did get it to install on a Mac G3 running OS 8.6.

Features: Stop animations feature is gone and sorely missed. Makes me mouse more than IE does. IE-like backspace is there; ctrl-enter is not and autocomplete is Netscape 4-like rather than IE like, forcing more keystrokes. I wish they’d focus more on usability, speed and stability and less on eye candy. Text enlargement doesn’t trigger window scrollbar or margin resizing when needed, so if you enlarge the text, you’ll lose the edge of the screen.

The ctrl-l-accessible Open Location box doesn’t use any autocomplete at all.

What’s Related moves from the navigation bar to the sidebar, where it’s tempting to turn off to save screen space.

Built-in search tool turns the sidebar back on if you turned it off. Annoying–don’t throw out your bookmarks to Google and Altavista yet.

No longer any fast, easy way to toggle images on/off

No longer forces you to install everything under the sun, which is very nice. Good to be able to get just a browser if you want.

Memory usage: disappointing. Used anywhere from 18-28 megs during initial testing. It’d be so nice to nuke the #$%& eye candy and get that memory usage down.

The verdict: I’m pretty happy with how the Gecko rendering engine turned out. But as soon as K-Meleon comes of age, chances are I’ll switch to that because it’s so much leaner and meaner. (Mozilla’s plagued by the same eye candy garbage, and until we all have 2-GHz processors and a gig of RAM and 15K RPM hard drives on our desktops, I’m mostly interested in having something that works fast. That means giving up some inessential whiz-bang stuff.)

And if you missed it… I posted an update late yesterday. It was too important to wait until this morning.


From: “bill cavanaugh” <billcav@nospam.yahoo.com>
I just followed the Daynotes link to your site. I couldn’t help but notice:

“Farquhar’s Law. I should have some t-shirts made with this on it. Repeat after me. Cable connections are the last thing most people check. Make them the first thing you check.”

This has been one of (actually, I think the first) Pournelle’s Laws for a couple of decades.


Aw man, I thought I stole that fair and square from PC/Computing way back when it was still a magazine kind of worth reading.

Well, hopefully there’s some other stuff on the site useful to you that isn’t stolen from someone who stole it from Jerry Pournelle.


From: “Curtis Horn” <curtishorn@nospam.home.com>
Subject: Fwd: FIC VA-503+ and K6-III+

I read what Peter said, and you are right, I got the K6-III because my other option is a k6-2, and we all know that on chip cache is better than on board, even at 100Mhz.  And it wasn’t that much more expensive than getting a k6-2.

I haven’t had the chance to upgrade the bios, but I did find it.  The other issue is that the bios chip is soldered on so I have to do it right and back up the old bios.  I’ll have some time this weekend, when I’m going to put the hard drive in.

This may sound weird but ever since I got a job that has me work on computer sometimes I feel less enthusiastic about doing it at home.  Right now I have 3 computers that I have to put NT Images on, and one has to have a second network card (for a bnc connector).  Thanks allot for the help.


By all means take all proper precautions. It’s always a shame to ruin a motherboard because of something as simple as a BIOS upgrade. (I’ve got a dead Abit IT5H under my desk. Great board. I have no idea what I did that killed it, and that’s a shame because I could drop a Cyrix MII in it along with all the 72-pin SIMMs I could scrounge up and a 7200 rpm hard drive and it’d still be a fantastic workaday machine.)

What you say about not wanting to work on PCs after you get home actually makes a lot of sense. I resemble that remark! My main station’s Antec 300W power supply blew over the summer. The PC sat there in pieces for a couple of months because I just didn’t feel like working on it after doing that kind of stuff all day at work. I finally got around to swapping in another power supply a couple of weeks ago. I messed up my Linux firewall around the same time that power supply blew. I didn’t get around to fixing it until this weekend. Writing is relaxing to me because I don’t do it all day. Back when I was paying for college by selling my soul working as a salesman in a consumer electronics store, I found working on PCs relaxing.

I’m glad I could help.


A retraction, and a t-shirt saying

A profuse apology. Some months ago I posted an incorrect recollection that self-help pioneer Jess Lair, author of I Ain’t Much Baby, But I’m All I’ve Got, among other books, had committed suicide. I, regrettably, speculated as to why. Unable to find any confirmation one way or the other, I posted both the rumor and the speculation (I know better than to do that but I didn’t). Dan Seto, master researcher, quickly refuted it.

Then, today, Dr. Lair’s granddaughter e-mailed me to give some specifics. She confirmed that no, Dr. Lair did not commit suicide in the 1970s or anything else of the sort. To an extreme contrary, Dr. Lair was the ultimate survivor. He got his first pacemaker 38 years ago. He went through a total of three of them in his life. He survived six heart attacks. (Many of us don’t survive our first.)

When he died, she said he struggled for each breath for half an hour before finally walking to the light.

It’s unfortunate that those details aren’t widely known. This sounds to me like a man who said what he believed and believed what he said, pubished it, and lived it. That kind of genuineness is rare.

Do yourself a favor and give Dr. Lair’s I Ain’t Much Baby, But I’m All I’ve Got a look if you’ve never heard of it before.

Once again, I am terribly sorry. (And when I get a chance later tonight, I really need to go find that page and change it, leaving only the retraction, to prevent that rumor from perpetuating.)

Thanks to Dan Bowman for finding the link for me. But the FTP server is now refusing connections. I hate my other frickin’ ISP… Don’t they understand, this is important!?

Farquhar’s Law. I should have some t-shirts made with this on it. Repeat after me. Cable connections are the last thing most people check. Make them the first thing you check.

Got it? Good. I bring this up because I had a CD-RW fail yesterday. The culprit was a poorly seated firewire cable.

That’s it for computer stuff for the day. But fasten your seatbelts for a long post anyway. I rode a roller coaster yesterday, and now I’m taking you with me. (Hey, you agreed.)

Time to preach again. I’ll keep it short. I know some of you love it when I do this. Some of you absolutely hate it. What writer could possibly resist a subject that stirs such strong reactions?

I was talking after church last night with a relative newcomer. She’s been a Christian for about six months, she says. She was talking about her upbringing, and in trying to understand it, I used the word “hollow,” and she agreed. She talked about how the past six months have turned her life around, telling story after story, and I just couldn’t help but get excited. I was nodding and saying, “yeah!” a lot. The last person I talked to who was struggling so much and yet so happy was the man in… my… mirror. A few years ago.

And then she did a funny thing. She apologized for taking so much of my time. For one, I like being useful (that’s part of the reason for this site, after all–if people stop telling me it’s useful, it’s history). The other reason should be obvious. God is a relationship. So think about other relationships. How many sappy love songs talk about love when it’s new? Relationships just seem more exciting when they’re new, for some reason. So here’s someone telling stories that sound just like my experiences when my relationship with God was newer than it is now. You think I’m gonna get tired of listening to that? Not on your life.

If you’re living Psalm 51:12 (“Restore to me the joy of my salvation…”), try talking to someone who’s still experiencing the newness of theirs. It’s contagious. You’ll be singing a different tune real quick.

I got my Missouri Constitution Article X Distribution yesterday. That’s also known as the annual Mel Carnahan illegal taxation refund. Mel Carnahan, in case you don’t know, is the former two-term governor of Missouri, killed in a plane crash last month and elected posthumously to the U.S. Senate. He has attained something resembling sainthood here in Myzurah.

I try not to spout off about politics too much anymore, but this just makes me too mad. So, rant mode equals one, here we go.

I remember Carnahan for taxing Missouri citizens at levels deemed illegal by the Missouri constitution (forcing the use of state funds to return that illegal money, money that could be used for something else) and for demanding that Missouri representatives and senators fire their interns if they crossed him the wrong way. (I personally interviewed a fired intern who fell victim to Carnahan’s rage for a story back in 1993.) Carnahan was Missouri’s king of overtaxation and political dirty tricks.

Let’s say my refund was for $50. (It wasn’t, but that number works for this exercise.) That means the Missouri government willfully tried to steal 50 bucks from me over the course of the past year. Now, the kicker. I messed up my 1998 state taxes and got hit for a penalty. So for 1999 I had an accountant do them. He got my Federal return right, but my Missouri return was off by about 20 bucks. So Missouri nailed me for underpayment and charged a penalty. Then I got a check at the end of the year for considerably more than the amount I underpaid!

So, Tax Man Carnahan’s thugs did steal the amount of that interest and penalty (whatever that was) from me. Who knows how many other people this happened to? The amount was fairly small, so there’s no point in fighting it or whining about it any more than I already have, but I wonder how many people who aren’t so well-off (whom Carnahan’s cronies supposedly want to help) bounced checks or had to go without something because the government had stolen money from them and held it hostage for seven months? How many of them slightly “underpaid” (Carnahanspeak for paying something closer to the legal amount), then got slapped with interest and penalties that weren’t refunded? What if some of them actually need that money? Do these limousine and SUV liberals know what it’s like to be literally a couple of bucks short of being able to pay their bills? I understand that situation because I’ve been there. I work hard and live cheap and save to try to ensure I never will be in that situation again. I’d rather teach government to work hard like I do at being fiscally responsible, so as to not lay an overly heavy yoke of a tax burden on the poor (who, if they’re making less than 15 Gs a year, shouldn’t be paying any taxes anyway) or on anyone else.

Liberalism, particularly Carnahan Liberalism, isn’t about compassion. It’s about money and power–specifically, grabbing as much of it as possible, whatever the price. Even if it means breaking the law.

I’m sorry he’s dead. I don’t wish sudden death on anyone (or their families). But I’m not sorry he’s not going to Washington. I am sorry the citizens of Missouri are too stupid to elect lawmakers with enough regard for the law to follow it themselves.

Windows keyboard tricks

Those promised keyboard tricks. To get a Windows key, download the Kernel Toys. The keyboard applet, which works under 95 and 98, allows you to remap the caps lock, control, or alt keys to a Windows key. You can also remap the caps lock key to control or alt if you want. 

To assign My Computer to a hotkey, create a new shortcut with the following command line:
explorer.exe /n,/e,::{20D04FE0-3AEA-1069-A2D8-08002B30309D}

Next, click on the shortcut key and hit a key (I suggest “m” or “c”) and that’ll give you instant two-pane access to My Computer any time you hit ctrl-alt and that key.

If you want single-pane access (I don’t think it’s as useful, but hey), use this command line instead:
explorer.exe /n,::{20D04FE0-3AEA-1069-A2D8-08002B30309D}

I finally fixed my firewall. I souped up the firewall a while back, then it never worked again. (I guess that’s the ultimate in security, eh? No one can hack in if you’re offline.) I forgot which ethernet card was outgoing and which was pointing inward, to my LAN. Finally, I tried stopping and restarting PMFirewall, which printed my network configuration. When both NICs were assigned to the address, I knew I was in trouble. With that tip-off, fixing it took just a matter of minutes.

Speaking of Linux, a speed tip. If you’re running Red Hat Linux as a NAT/IP masquerade gateway to share an Internet connection, do yourself a favor and install the BIND and caching-nameserver RPMs, then set your first DNS entry on your other PCs to your gateway’s IP address. This will make your proxy server look up DNS addresses for you and store them, reducing network traffic slightly but noticeably. The overhead is minimal; I’ve got Steve DeLassus running IP masquerade and caching nameserver on a 486SX/20 and it’s more than up to the task. For a small home network, a 386SX/16 has enough horsepower as long as it meets your distribution’s minimum memory requirements. I’d be more comfortable with a 50 MHz or faster 486 for a small office, but that’s as much due to expected age and reliability as it is to CPU requirements.

If you’re running a close derivative of Red Hat (Mandrake is certainly close enough, and I believe even Caldera and TurboLinux are as well), go ahead and download Red Hat’s caching nameserver RPM. It’s just a couple of short text files, but it’s easier to download and install an RPM than it is to key them in.

Mouse cursor troubleshooting

Sorry, keyboard secrets will have to wait. No time. But here’s something else.

Case of the disappearing cursor. Maybe you’re lucky and you’ve never seen this, but sometimes the cursor will disappear inside text boxes in Windows NT (and presumably 9x). The solution is to reinstall your video driver — preferably a newer version.

I’ll be back in a bit. I’ve got some cool hotkey tricks. You don’t have to buy a new Microsoft keyboard to have keyboard access to things like the My Computer icon. For that matter you don’t have to buy a new keyboard to get a Windows key either, if you’re an old-timer like me still using an old 101-key PS/2 keyboard (the keyboards of today just aren’t nearly as good as the ones IBM and Lexmark made 12 or 13 years ago–of course, they also cost 10% of what those keyboards cost new).

I’ll spill the beans later this morning.