Christmas presents you want, and don’t want

Evening update. I came home to a non-working phone and CD player. The phone’s working again. I’m thinking Southwestern Bell really doesn’t want me to like them. As for the CD player, I unplugged it for 10 seconds and plugged it in–first thing I do with any piece of electronics. That brought it back from the dead, but as I was listening to U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind, I noticed some crackling in the audio. I’ve been listening mostly to really synthy New Wave music lately and the crackling can blend in with the synths, but on the more organic-sounding tracks in the middle of ATYCLB, there’s no place for the crackling to hide.

I ought to open it up and see if the problem isn’t just an overly dirty lens. That’s nothing a foam swab dipped in a little isopropyl alcohol can’t fix. Otherwise, I may have to start shopping. That’s what is for. The JVC XL-MC334-BK looks good for the money.

I’ll also have to resist the temptation to get a second pair of speakers. The KLH 970A speakers are dirt cheap ($20-$30) and reportedly sound really good for the price. There are better speaker brands than KLH, but these would be secondary speakers and if I don’t like them on the stereo, if paired up with an inexpensive receiver they’d make a very nice computer sound system.

An early Christmas present you don’t want. Another e-mail worm is making the rounds, this one called Navidad.exe. Navidad.exe es muy mal para su computadora. Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

What it appears to do is reply to all messages in your inbox containing a single attachment, attaching itself in the process. The really nasty part is that the worm contains poorly written code, causing your system to be unstable.

I’ll continue with my standard advice. Don’t open unexpected executable (.exe) attachments. If you can’t tell the difference, don’t open unexpected attachments at all. It’s better to miss the joke than to have to reinstall Windows yet another time. Keep in mind that the people who are most likely to fall victim to such things are also the least likely to have any backups.

You can get details and a repair tool from Symantec.

A friend got a hysterical phone call at midnight last Thursday from another friend whose system was exhibiting behavior similar to this. He eventually calmed her down enough to walk her through reinstalling Windows, which restored her system to a bootable state.

If a system will no longer boot, it should be possible to bubblegum it back together with Windows 98’s scanreg tool. Boot to a command prompt by holding down the control key, then type scanreg at the C:> prompt. Restore a recent backup (preferably the most recent or second-most recent). Once you boot successfully, immediately update your virus signatures and run your anti-virus program, or download a repair tool to do a full repair.

This trick fixes many, but not all, recent viruses.

486s and Amigas and emulators, oh my

Recovering data from an old large hard drive out of a 486. Someone asked how. No problem.
What do is put both drives in a new(er) system, each on its own IDE channel as master, then autodetect the old drive with the BIOS’ autodetect drives feature. But, to be on the safe side, I don’t boot Windows. I don’t want anything to try to write to the old drive, because it may not work right the first time. Instead, hold down the control key while booting (if you have Win98; if you have Win95, start tapping the F8 key immediately after the BIOS boot screen comes up–if you get a keyboard error, hit F1 when it says, then resume your attack on the F8 key). Select Safe Mode Command Prompt Only from the menu. That will put you at a C prompt.

Your old(er) drive will be drive D. If you had other partitions on the drive, they’ll be lower in the alphabet as Dan said. We can tell you exactly how your drives will be mapped if you remember your partitions (or maybe you’re familiar with how drive letters get mapped already).

Now, I execute a DIR /S D: to see if it produced an error. If it doesn’t, try this to get your data (don’t type the comments in italics):

MD C:RECOVER create a destination for your data
SMARTDRV D- turn on disk caching to speed up –may not work but does no harm
XCOPY /S /E /V D:*.* C:RECOVER copy drive D in its entirety to the destination

With any luck, that’ll safely spirit all your data away to the new drive. This is more convoluted than using Windows Explorer, but it’s safer. (See why I disagree with the people who say command lines are evil and obsolete and we shouldn’t have them anymore?)

If that succeeds, power down, disconnect the old drive, boot Windows, and check to make sure your data is intact and not corrupt. If it fails, reboot, go into the BIOS, and change the translation scheme for the old drive (you have a choice between Normal, Large, and LBA–LBA is usually the default). Lather, rinse, and repeat.

The good news is, I’ve used this method numerous times to move data from old 486s to newer machines, so chances of success, though not guaranteed, are pretty high.

Maybe I don’t want that Amiga 1200 after all… I went ahead and downloaded UAE 0.8.8 Release 8, then downloaded Amiga In A Box, which gives me a nice, souped-up Amiga setup without me having to remember all the nuances of the OS and tweak them myself (including some nice PD and shareware stuff already installed, configured and running). I fed it my Kickstart ROM image and my Workbench disk, it copied the files it needed, and voila, I had a working AGA-compatible Amiga!

The package even includes TCP/IP support. While Web browsing on a 33 MHz machine is a bit slow, I found performance to be almost as good as Netscape 4.x on a 90 MHz Power Macintosh 7200.

I benchmarked it, and on my Celeron-400 with a pathetic Cirrus Logic video card (I really need to get a cheap TNT2) I still compared favorably to a 33 MHz Amiga 4000/030. (My old beloved Amiga 2000 had a 25 MHz 68030 in it.) Since the Amiga’s biggest bottlenecks were with the disk subsystem and the video–they were comparable in speed to the PCs of 1990 and 1991–even a slow-sounding 33 MHz machine runs pretty nicely. I could probably crank out a little extra speed with some tweaking, which of course I’ll do at some point.

Then again, maybe I’ve finally found a use for a 1.2-GHz Athlon… (Besides voice recognition.)

If you have an old Amiga laying around and want some nostalgia, go get this. There’s a ton of legal Amiga software at to experiment with. If you don’t have an Amiga but want to see what all the fuss is about, you can get Cloanto’s Amiga Forever package, which contains legal, licensed ROM and OS images. You’ve probably never heard of Cloanto, but they’re one of the largest remaining Amiga software publishers. They’re reputable.

Now I just need to get TransWrite, the great no-nonsense word processor that I bought when I first got my A2000, running under UAE.

How to write a book

Before I begin, a word about fear. Pastor had some great stuff at the 8:30 meeting I attended this morning, so I’m glad I went even though it was early. This is really good stuff: Fear leads to inaction. Inaction leads to inexperience. Inexperience leads to inability. Inability leads to continued failure and fear. Nice system, eh?

How to break it? “You build self-esteem by doing things that achieve,” he said. And if you’re a believer, you build Christ-esteem by remembering your identity in Christ. And you slowly break the cycle.

How to write a book. Super-influential musician and producer Brian Eno once said of the Velvet Underground’s first album, “Only 1,000 people bought it, but every last one of them started a band.”

Optimizing Windows seems to be like that. About 12 people bought it. OK, maybe 30. Several (maybe a half dozen or so) of them have asked me about how to go about writing a book. One is under contract and writing his first book now. (I could maybe count Frank McPherson, but I’m pretty sure he’d already started his book long before our paths crossed so I’ll just say we influenced each other.) The most recent query was yesterday, so since a handful of people are interested in a real, live author talking very candidly about writing, I’m going to subject the 200 or so of you who read regularly to it.

This letter is edited slightly, to avoid giving away the author’s idea, and also edited to disguise the style. I don’t want to violate his confidence, but I also think the issues raised are of general enough interest to be worth posting. (But he really did call Optimizing Windows “[his] new bible” and “a really kick-ass computer book.”)

I bought Optimizing Windows for Games, Graphics and Multimedia. Damn, man, that’s my new bible. By page 39 I noticed a difference. I hadn’t even defragged yet. I’m only on page 50 or so now. Thanks a lot. I’ve been calling all my friends up and telling them about it. I’m currently taking a course to get my MCSE and I’ve learned a lot there, but this just tops it off.

One quick thing. It’s just a thought, but I’ve got this collection of useful stuff I’ve learned. Basically it’s about 45 pages long, single space, font size 10. A lot of people have been saying that I can sell it. So you, being an author of a really kick-ass computer book, I am seeking your advice. It’s quite raw, but very useful. So any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Wow, thanks! I’m flattered and humbled. Yes, by page 39 the difference should be visible. By page 75, it’ll be more visible. And after that, if you install and use one of the utilities suites, you’ll think you have a whole new computer. I hope I’m not exaggerating too much there, but when I’ve done this stuff to other people’s computers I’ve always turned heads, so if it’s not like getting a new computer the difference is at least very impressive. Not that I can take credit for any of the utilities suites–used properly, they are miracle workers, plain and simple.

Your predicament sounds very familiar. In 1997, I was working my first job (I wasn’t even out of college yet). Our standard platform was a 486DX2/50 with 16-24 MB RAM, running Windows 95, Office 97, Lotus Notes 4.5, and Netscape 4.0. It was awful. I took one of the 486s, put it on an extra desk in my office, and experimented with it. The result of that was a document, probably 10-15 pages long, full of registry hacks, control panel tweaks, files to move, files to delete, msdos.sys hacks, that kind of stuff. As my colleagues left for greener pastures, usually they’d e-mail me a couple weeks later asking me for a copy of that document. I started to realize there might be a market for the thing.

I couldn’t get any magazine editors to return my queries. Finally I just gave up on the idea. I never thought to write a book–I’m trained as a magazine writer. I got a break as a technical reviewer, which got me an audience with a book editor, and the editor made a point to e-mail me and thank me–I guess something about the comments impressed him. So I made my move. I asked him what it took to write a book besides an idea. Basically, he said not much. So I bounced a few ideas off him, including a book on optimizing Windows NT and a book on optimizing Windows 9x. He liked the Windows 9x book best. I was so excited just to be talking to a real, live editor at a respected publishing house that I was willing to publish under any terms (big mistake). But I had my foot in the door, which was what I was basically worried about. I didn’t necessarily care about making any money–not at that point at least. To make a short story boring, I took that initial document and organized it–putting together the parts that seemed to go together. The stuff on disk optimization became chapters 3 and 5. The MSDOS.SYS stuff became chapter 4. (Of course I expanded on all that stuff a bunch.) The remainder of it mostly went into chapter 2. The rest of the chapters just seemed to me to be a logical extension of the material I already had there–what was missing that I assumed all of my coworkers knew, but couldn’t assume the rest of the world did. And of course, in writing those bits, I picked up some new tricks, some not so well-known, and threw those in.

The “Games, Graphics and Multimedia” part was strictly a marketing move. My intent with the original document was to make Office and Notes run fast. What’s good for MS Office is generally good for games though.

OK, so we’ve covered turning raw stuff into a book–organize and expand, basically. You can assume a standard 8.5×11 sheet of paper, single-spaced, will probably turn into two pages once typeset, due to margins and headings and other white space used to make it easier to read. So 45 pages would become roughly 90 pages in book form. After organization and expansion, who knows? I turned a 10-15 page document into a 278-page tome. I don’t know if that means your 45-pager will become a 900-page monster or not, but it might.

But there’s no point in writing something that you can’t publish. First, figure out your target audience, then tailor the book to them. My editor was always getting on to me about targetting gamers–said I wasn’t doing it enough. He was right. Once I started doing that, the book came together much better.

Next, make sure this is something that really matters to you. Kurt Vonnegut once said not to write about anything you wouldn’t stand up on a soapbox about. If it’s not the most important thing in the world to you, don’t write it. That was what went wrong with my second book. No book will ever be the most important thing in the world to me, but that second book wasn’t even in the Top 10. So, make sure you’re excited about it at first, because I guarantee you that in 6-10 months when it’s still not quite done, you won’t be nearly as excited about it. You need to have enough at the beginning to carry you through.

True story: I was at a small-venue concert a couple months after I signed Optimizing Windows. It was probably the first weeknight I took off after starting it. A girl I went to high school with (and church with years ago, before that) was there. I recognized her, and she obviously recognized me and seemed to be sending those “available” signals. Now, I never knew her super-well, but I knew her well enough to know she had most of what you’re supposed to look for: pretty, intelligent, similar values to mine, at least a little bit of a sense of humor… I didn’t pursue her. I think I said hello, but I’m not even sure of that. And I didn’t even remember the incident until a couple of weeks ago, when I found out that band was coming back to town next month. The book, at the time, was more important to me than any budding relationship could be. Maybe that makes me cold, I don’t know. I certainly was driven. I didn’t have that drive the second time around. You don’t have to be as psycho about it as I was at that point in time, but if your feelings for the prospect of writing that book don’t at least rival your feelings for the prospect of dating someone new, the book isn’t going to be as good as it could be.

Once you’ve got that, look around at other books on the market. Are you in direct competition with any of them? If you are, you have to differentiate yourself enough that someone who has one will want the other, because you can’t just write a similar book and price yours for less. Printing and distribution costs are pretty static. Two books of the same length by different publishers will cost about the same. You’ll have to be able to tell your agent (more on that in a minute) and your editors why your book is better, or why it’s different. If there’s nothing out there quite like it, tell them so, and list a few books that are out there that the people who would like your book would also like. Probably there are things that aren’t in those books that are in yours. Optimizing Windows, I think, sits nicely between Windows 98 Annoyances and PC Hardware in a Nutshell. Annoyances talks more about customizing Windows. PCHIAN talks more about hardware, and in more specific terms, than I do. But my book gives you a lot that you won’t get just from those other two.

Finally, get an agent. Most book publishers won’t talk to you without one. Get an agent excited about your book. Then it’s the agent’s job to find a publisher and negotiate. The agent takes a cut, but you’ll get a lot more with an agent than without. It’s kind of like getting a lawyer in that regard. If the agent gets you 25 percent more, it’s no big deal that you had to give him/her 12 percent because you’re still ahead. And when you have disagreements with your publisher (and you will), the agent acts as a go-between.

You might also think about a co-author. Co-authorships can be tricky. You’ll learn a lot from each other, but co-authoring is a great way to destroy a friendship (as I learned firsthand, and every editor I’ve ever talked to has confirmed). It’s kind of like playing in a band, I guess. The Beatles were once best friends. They get along now, but they sure don’t hang out together on Friday or Saturday nights. The Police not only no longer hang out together; they’ve only all been in the same place once since 1986. Yet Keith Richards and Mick Jagger have stuck together for what, 40 years? Sometimes it works great and sometimes it’s awful.

Maybe I’ve totally scared you off now, and I haven’t even talked about voice, style, research, rewriting, and dealing with an editor for the first time (it’s definitely a loss of innocence for most people). That’s not really my intent, but writing a book isn’t something most people can do casually.

That’s what I’ve learned from writing one and a half books. It’s not much but I hope it helps.

And I finally got around to putting up a picture. A picture is good for identifying with the author–I guess you trust people a little more when you know what they look like. As a columnist in college, I pushed for the student newspaper I was writing for to print columnists’ pictures (one very influential columnist there always pushed against that, mostly because he printed the kind of stuff that got him death threats). Once that particular columnist had been gone a semester, the pictures went in. And yet I’m one of the last of the Daynoters to include a picture. So it goes…

This is a newspaper photo, taken January 1996, when I was 21 and serving as a crime reporter for the Columbia Missourian. It’s a black-and-white image, printed at 85 lpi. I scanned it and did only minimal cleanup. I think it fits with the theme of the site pretty well. I wear my hair shorter now and I usually have a moustache and goatee so I don’t look so much like that anymore, but I still like it.

The joy of teaching

The joy of teaching. Remember that Pentium-75 that was limping along under Windows NT’s heavy yoke? She didn’t complain to me about it (probably because she knew I did a lot to try to make it usable), but she did complain to some other people. One of the other IT guys did some lobbying. And when I said that a Mac would be an improvement over that thing, it got some people’s attention. (I’m not exactly known as a Mac zealot at work. Some call me exactly the opposite.) So she got another machine.
Well, as it turns out, she’s taking a class titled Management of Information Systems. She called me up yesterday to ask me a few questions relating to the class. Sure, says I. She asked about a mainframe’s place in a Webcentric world, which really made me think. I’m not of the mainframe generation, and I left the computer science program at the University of Missouri because the only thing they were interested in cranking out at the time were IBM System 370 administrators who knew VM/CMS and JCL. Gag me. I’d rather use and fix Macs. But retrofitting certainly makes more sense than outright replacement in many cases.

Then she asked about NCs. I laughed, because my now-defunct Linux book was to have a chapter about NCs in it (and how to roll your own). “Why didn’t they catch on?” she asked. Two reasons, I said. Poor marketing, for one. Larry Ellison assumes that everyone hates Microsoft as much as he does, so he releases this overpriced box and says little about it other than “Not Microsoft.” The second reason, of course, is versatility. People like the versatility of their PCs. NCs have none.

Then she asked a sharp question. “Isn’t this the same thing we do with Reflection?” (Reflection is a very high-priced VTxx terminal emulator from WRQ, Inc. that we use to connect to a cluster of VMS boxes.) Ah, she gets it! Yes, only NCs pull Windows and Windows applications (or another GUI and GUI applications) instead of text-based programs.

“This stuff doesn’t even seem real,” she said at one point. “And here you are, talking right off the top of your head about it.” But at the end of the conversation, she seemed to get it.

And that’s what’s cool about writing books or maintaining a Web site. Lighting up the darkness. Making the unfamiliar make sense. Or at least a little more sense.

My phone was ringing off the hook today. I made a comment about my popularity rising. One of my office-mates suggested I run for president. Well, I said, I couldn’t do any worse of a job of carrying Florida… But I won’t be of legal age until 2012.

I guess that’s the last thing I have to look forward to. At 16 you can drive. At 17 you can get into R-rated movies. At 18 you can vote. At 21 you can drink. At 25, your insurance rates go down. And at 35, you can run for president.


I remembered seeing an article a while back concerning this person’s issue:

It is an optimization guide for the K6-2+ (also K6-III+, but not
explicitly stated) processors, and it includes a board compatibility guide.

According to the guide, the FIC VA-503+ will only support the new
processors with a beta bios (doesn’t mention specific versions) and revision 1.2 of the board.

I’m CC’ing a copy of this to Curtis.


Dustin D. Cook, A+

I didn’t get this message, except when Curtis replied to me. I’ll have to investigate.
Thanks much for the tip.

Doesn’t anybody else feel impelled to mention that a 50MHz (for in this case >12.5%) speed gain is completely valueless? As you surely know, Dave, in ordinary use people don’t usually notice any speed change that’s much finer than 2x. I’d take a 12%-faster CPU and pop it into my system if 1) somebody gave it to me for nothing, and 2) it was a no-brainer plop-in install. Otherwise, there are better uses for $60. Ya think?

Peter A. Moore
ITS Engineer
Precision IT, a division of Precision Design Systems

in reference to:
My understanding was he wanted to get that CPU because he was using his 400 MHz CPU in another system.

Yes, you are entirely right, a 50 MHz gain generally isn’t worth it. You could make an argument for when it’s a 50 MHz gain accompanied by something else, say, an upgrade from a K6-2/400 to a K6-III/450, in which case you’d get a larger gain, maybe 25-35 percent, due to on-chip cache. But with CPU speed being a fairly small factor in overall system performance, that 35% increase definitely won’t work miracles.

When upgrading a system, I generally attack system RAM and the hard drive first. It’s amazing what a difference dropping in a 7200-rpm hard drive makes. I recently made a P200 boot Win95 in 15 seconds by replacing the drive, dropping in another 64 megs of RAM, then doing a fresh Windows installation and tweaking msdos.sys. Very nice.

Good observation. Thanks.

An Optimizing Windows followup?

Optimizing Windows NT for Games, Graphics and Multimedia or Whatever… I occasionally get a question whether there’ll ever be such a beast. O’Reilly and I discussed it in the past, with little interest. (In fact when we were negotiating Optimizing Windows, I wanted it to be an NT book, and they asked if I knew Win9x well enough to write about that instead.)

There’s the possibility that another publisher who’s strong in Windows NT/Windows 2000, such as Sybex, might be interested. I haven’t talked to anyone there about it yet. But believe me, I’ve thought about the possibility of such a book.

I tried to write Optimizing Windows in such a way that someone who knew Windows 9x and another OS would then be able to apply the principles to both OSes, even though the specifics would only apply to 9x.

In the meantime, the best suggestion I can come up with is to take yesterday’s post , print it, then paste it to an otherwise underutilized page (such as the last page of the preface, which is totally blank). While it doesn’t go into great detail, that message could well form the basis of a chapter in an NT/2000 follow-on. I’d say at least half of chapter 2 in Optimizing Windows (particularly the user interface stuff) applies to NT and 2000 as well.

Laptop troubleshooting. I had a laptop the other day that seemed to launch programs and move the mouse pointer around at will. I’d never seen anything like it before. We were perplexed about it for a couple of hours (it was a deployed user in California, so it wasn’t like I could just tool over to his desk and start trying stuff). On a hunch, he unplugged everything and powered up the bare laptop. It worked fine. He started adding components one at a time, and when he got to the mouse, the problem reappeared.

Constant travel and frequent plugging and unplugging certainly could be hard on the mouse cable, so I can see where this might be a common problem for road warriors (I’d say 90 percent of my support experience is desktop PCs). So, if you’re getting unexplainable behavior from a PC, especially a laptop, try a different mouse — and a different external keyboard too, while you’re at it — and see if that makes the problem go away.

Windows NT on hardware it has no business on

A partial retraction. OK, Southwestern Bell isn’t responsible for all my missing mail. I had a second POP3 client running that I forgot about, which was grabbing some of my mail. But my computer couldn’t find a DHCP server all day, so even though one problem wasn’t their fault, another one was. So I’m still gonna write Casey Kassum with a request and dedication: Todd Rundgren’s “I Hate My Frickin’ ISP,” dedicated to my beloved Southwestern Bell.

Running, uh, no, executing Windows NT 4.0 on a Pentium-75 with 16 MB RAM. Disclaimer: Before you start thinking things that include my name and words like “crack” or “LSD,” let me state emphatically that this was not my idea. I was only following orders. (I’m not on drugs. I’m not nuts–I’m certifiably sane. I’m not even depressed.) All that clear? Good.

That said, the stated minimum hardware requirements for NT 4 are a 486 CPU with 12 MB RAM. And I did once build a print server out of an old IBM PS/2 that had a 486SLC2/50 CPU and 16 megs of RAM. Hey, I was young and I needed the money, OK? Besides, it was a very experimental time and I didn’t think anybody would get hurt…

OK, I’m done turning druggy double entendres.

Needless to say, NT on this machine is anything but pretty. (And I’ll put a marginal machine into service as a server where no one ever interacts with it directly long before I stick one on an end-user’s desk.) The video card in my flagship PC has more memory and processing power. But we’re out of PCs, and this poor girl needs a computer on her desk (though she’s never done anything to deserve this fate), so here’s what I did to try to make life on this machine more tolerable. These tricks work much better on fast machines.

  • Pull out all network protocols except TCP/IP. I also double-checked all TCP/IP settings and made sure the closest DNS server was first on the list.
  • Use a static IP address. The DHCP service uses memory and CPU cycles, and on machines like this, every byte and cycle counts.
  • Remove Office Startup, Find Fast, and LoadWC from Startup. The first two are in the All Users start menu. The last is in the registry. All eat memory and provide no useful functionality.
  • Move the swap file to a second physical hard disk. This machine happened to have a second drive, so I put the swap file there for better performance.
  • Turn off unnecessary services. The Scheduler service and Computer Browser service normally aren’t needed. If the network never sent out notifications (ours does), I’d also turn off the Messenger service.
  • Remove unnecessary fonts. I won’t do this without her present, since I might inadvertently nuke her favorite font. But if she doesn’t use it, it’s gone.
  • Keep free space above 100 megs. Windows slows to a crawl when forced to live on a drive that’s as crowded as a mosh pit.
  • Defragment! Making matters worse, this drive didn’t seem to have a single file on it that wasn’t fragmented. I ran Diskeeper and there was more red on the screen than at a Cardinals game when Mark McGwire’s chasing home run records.
  • When you have two drives, put the OS on the faster of the two. Unfortunately, the OS is on an ancient Seagate 420-meg drive, with a 2.1-gig drive in as the secondary drive. The roles really should be reversed. When in doubt, the bigger drive is usually faster. The newer drive almost always is. I may just Ghost the OS over to the 2.1-gig drive, then switch them.
  • Switch to Program Manager. She’s probably not comfortable with the old Windows 3.1 interface (I’ve only ever met one person who liked it) so I probably won’t do this, but that’ll save you a couple megs.

Yes, even with these adjustments, it’s still awful. So I’m gonna see if I can dig up some memory from somewhere. That’ll help more than anything. But as tempting as overclocking may be, I won’t do it.

Mail. voting, and recovery

Mail problems. I know for a fact that some good mail didn’t get to me. The smoking gun is a piece of mail, properly addressed to me, that fortunately was CC’ed to one of my readers. The reader responded to both of us, so I got the mail indirectly.

So… Not only does Southwestern Bell not have a clue about how to keep routers and DHCP servers running, apparently they’re also talented enough to make their mail server refuse some but not all mail. (If you happen to live in an area serviced by Southwestern Bell, do yourself a favor and buy your Internet access from someone else. I sure wish I had.)

Excuse me while I go call a local radio station and request the song “I Hate My Frickin’ ISP” by Todd Rundgren.

I’m back. Anyway. If you sent me mail and more than a week has passed and you haven’t heard a peep from me or seen your mail posted on the site, go ahead and send it again if you don’t mind. You might also copy , my address at my backup ISP. I can’t imagine my ISPs are both so incompetent that they’d both swing and miss. (I know the mail server at work works just fine, but I’d rather not publicize that address–I get more mail there than I can handle.)

I haven’t been very good about using NaturallySpeaking lately.  So, in the interest of saving my wrists, I’m going to compose today’s post using dictation exclusively.

Be sure to go vote.  And remember, that e-mail going around about a split election day is a hoax.  A 33 percent expected turnout isn’t exactly overwhelming.  They can handle it. Not that any of this is likely to be news to any of my readership…

Time for a workout. I used NaturallySpeaking to write a song over the weekend, which was interesting.  It had a real hard time with the capitalization.  Let’s see how it handles recipes.

Dave’s Out Of This World Veggie Pizza.  A few months ago, I decided to shape up my diet.  My dad died of a heart attack a year ago yesterday, and his first cousin had to have a triple bypass this year.  Since my diet basically consisted of hamburgers, roast beef, and pepperoni pizza, I figured I was probably in trouble.  So I cut out most of the red meat, substituting poultry.  I really missed the pepperoni pizza.  Last week, I came up with this healthier substitute.

one pre-prepared 12″ pizza crust
1 1/2 cups spaghetti sauce
one cup mozzarella
8 to 10 fresh mushrooms, sliced
10 to 12 black olives, halved
four artichoke hearts, sliced

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Place crust on baking stone. Brush lightly with olive oil. Cover with sauce.  Cover with mozzarella. Add veggies. Sprinkle with liberal quantities of your favorite spices (thyme, oregano, basil, and parsley all work well). Turn the oven down to 425 degrees, then bake for 10 to 15 minutes. Serves two to three.

I like this recipe because it’s quick. By the time the oven heats up, I’ve put the pizza together. It really doesn’t take much longer than a frozen pizza would, costs about the same amount, and is much healthier (not to mention better-tasting).

For full effect, serve with green tea, iced, to drink.

Boy, NaturallySpeaking sure stumbled all over that one. I hope it’s just because it’s used to me talking about computers.


Way behind. I’m behind on mail and didn’t get the domain names registered that I wanted to do this weekend. Hopefully later… Not much to say today. Mail’s slowly trickling out. If you read early yesterday, there’s a nice motherboard problem in yesterday’s mail.

More later, if I get the chance and if anything interesting comes up.

How to get noticed: Get sued

~Mail follows today’s post~

Linux Today antics continue. I see on Jerry Pournelle’s site that they’ve dared him to sue them for libel. Smart move on their part, actually–I remember in my Magazine Publishing class, we raised the question in one session of how to drum up publicity for an upstart that nobody knows or cares about. (Linux Today would certainly qualify as this–it’s small potatoes and obviously knows it.) I raised my hand. My project in the class was a rebel computer mag. I’m sitting there in ripped-up jeans and a Joy Division t-shirt, known among my peers as the managing editor of a student newspaper that had an audience mostly because we baited the big, established paper, and my business plan called for taking this to the next level.

“Get sued,” I said.

Several people laughed. The professor gave me a look he gave often, a look that said, basically, I don’t know yet where you’re going with this, but I’ll humor you.

“It’s cheaper than advertising and it lasts longer,” I continued. “Suddenly, you’re news. People pay attention to you because someone big and important pays attention to you. By the time it manages to get through the courts, you’re either huge or you’re out of business, so it doesn’t matter.”

It made for nice classroom theory. It might work in the real world. But such kamikazee tactics are a sheer sign of desperation that begs the question: Why are they desperate? What do they know that the rest of us haven’t figured out yet?

Chances are, rather than sue, Jerry Pournelle will just solve the problem by eventually not saying a word about Linux at all. Linux zealots never say anything about John C. Dvorak, because Dvorak never says anything at all about Linux. The other lesson Linux Today and the zealots need to learn is that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Whatever Jerry Pournelle or any other mainstream columnist says contributes to mindshare. Mindshare, not rose-colored glasses, is what wins marketplace battles. It’s not like anyone who knew anything had anything nice to say about the original IBM PC–it won because of sheer mindshare.

This is a tired subject, and I’m dead tired. Time for lunch and a nap.


From: “Curtis Horn” <>
Subject: Data recovery and a dumb question.

Hello again Dave, glad to see you posting again. If you don’t remember me I e-mailed you about the compaq I was working on that had memory on the
motherboard.  Regarding the post quoted below:

“Hey, who was the genius who decided it was a good idea to cut, copy and paste files from the desktop?”

Have you tried
I noticed you said you downloaded a recovery program, but you did not say which one, so if this wasn’t it I hope it can still help you.  I found it
a few months back when a paniced friend called me and said he had a report due the next day and that his office document was corrupted.  Luckily, the demo version that I downloaded was able to get the cruicial
> parts of his report (I think you have to pay for the full recovery).  I did have trouble with it crashing also I think but I don’t remember.

On to my question, this is a good one too.  I put together a computer for my roomate and I tried upgrading it. (I’m using this computer now since
mine sucks[acer] and i’m waiting on DDR memory so I can start a new system)
Here is the current configuration:

FIC 503+ Motherboard with 1Mb cache
96 Mb of simms from acer (only had simms that’s why I bought fic, supports 4 simms)
16 Meg pci ati video card (from my old acer also)
and k6-III 400 (also from my acer, was on a powerleap adapter, now removed)
nice atx case from pc club (30$ 🙂
pci sound, 52x cd-rom, 8x4x32 cd-rw, 5.3gig quantum, isa nic card, scsi card for scanner

Got the picture? I mainly use it to play Asherons Call, to schoolwork, e-mail, ect.

So, for the upgrade, i’ve got a 13.6Gig Hd and I’m going to buy a 128meg Dimm since they are SO cheap now.  Here is where I ran into a problem.  I usually check pricewatch and some other sites to keep track of what things cost.  If I want to upgrade the processor on this computer my only option that is worth it is a Higher Mhz k6-3.  The problem is they are expensive.  2 weeks ago I noticed that they were under 60$, so I ordered one, a 450Mhz k6-3.  I ploped it in to my board and the bios comes up, says it’s running at 50Mhz and checks the memory then
stops.  Now, I expected this, because the processor I bought was a MOBILE processor, AND, I made sure my board supported the voltage (2v) and made sure to set it at 2v. But it didn’t boot.  I tried everything, set all the bios settings to default, rebooted, even tried lower than 450Mhz clock speeds. but no, it wouldn’t
work. Unfortunatley they won’t take it back because they EXPECT people to not set their boards to 2v and fry them (and I don’t blame them).  What I’d like
to know is if you know any way to get this to work?

Things I may try are:
taking everything out except the video card, trying dimms instead of simms, tweaking bios so everything is at minimum settings pulling my hair out (which will be hard cause I have thick hair) I know it was foolish, but, If I could get this to work I can put my old system backtogether and give it to my uncle and cousins, who really could use a omputer for school.  Well, thanks for everything, just so you know I’ve always highly recommended your books to everyone I know that is into computers (some have even bought it too) and I look forward to your next work.



I remember your name; I don’t remember the Compaq problem specifically (I rarely do). Good to hear from you again.

I’d heard of but I don’t know that I’ve ever tried their stuff out. I certainly will. It’s 11 pm and I just called and left a message on her voice mail that someone who read Optimizing Windows and reads my site had a suggestion for something I could try. Weirdest hour in the world, but I wanted to make sure she didn’t delete the corrupt files if she hadn’t
already. (Authorship has its priveliges–we have smart readers who always know something we don’t, and sometimes are willing to share. Thanks!)

Your question may not be too tough, especially since you do have a working CPU. Indicating a 50 MHz CPU speed usually means the BIOS doesn’t recognize
the CPU properly. Go to FIC’s page and download the very newest BIOS. I’ve noticed most of the reputable Super 7 manufacturers have revved their BIOS lately to support AMD’s newer stuff. So get the newest BIOS, flash the board, load setup defaults (if you have a choice between safe and turbo or safe and normal, go safe–I know the 503+ but it’s been a while since I worked with it), then try bringing up a minimal system (new CPU jumpered properly, just a video card, and a pair of SIMMs) and see what appens. Once you get it working, tweak the BIOS settings for better speed and add hardware, using the good engineer’s method of one change at a time.

I checked FIC’s site for VA-503+ BIOSes, and none of them explicitly list 2v MD CPU support, but it’s possible, especially if you have a particularly old revision, that something about the newest BIOS will allow it to work. They did make a lot of changes related to the K6-III in the past.  And you bring up an excellent point: The two things that usually stand in
the way of CPU upgrades are voltage settings and BIOS support. Sometimes, unfortunately, you have one but not the other. Hopefully this time you can
get both; the 503+ is a pretty good board, and a r
arity these days in that it’s AT, takes both SIMMs and DIMMs, and works with reasonably fast CPUs.

If you get it working, be sure to pair it up with good memory. I’ve always recommended Crucial; another reader wrote in this week recommending Mushkin
(, which is more expensive but he says his systems run even more stable with it than with Micron/Crucial stuff. Please don’t buy one of
the commodity DIMMs currently running $53 on  PriceWatch; sometimes those work, frequently they appear to work but then give you trouble down the

Thanks for the compliments on the book, I really do appreciate it! I don’t know when I’ll write another right now; I really enjoyed this last magazine
piece and would like to just keep going that route for a while. I’m signed up to do two more and hopefully that’ll lead to still more stuff down the line. These are UK-only, but there’s a possibility I’ll be able to get them published in the States at some point as well. I may have another Web exclusive coming up soon, provided I didn’t burn too many bridges this week.
It’s unpredictable but it makes it more exciting.

Apple. you call this tech support?

This is why I don’t like Apple. Yesterday I worked on a new dual-processor G4. It was intermittent. Didn’t want to drive the monitor half the time. After re-seating the video card and monitor cable a number of times and installing the hardware the computer needed, it started giving an error message at boot:

The built-in memory test has detected a problem with cache memory. Please contact a service technician for assistance.

So I called Apple. You get 90 days’ free support, period. (You also only get a one-year warranty unless you buy the AppleCare extended warranty, which I’m loathe to do. But I we’d probably better do it for this machine since it all but screams “lemon” every time we boot it.) So, hey, we can’t get anywhere with this, so let’s start burning up the support period.

The hold time was about 15 seconds. I mention this because that’s the only part of the call that impressed me and my mother taught me to say whatever nice things I could. I read the message to the tech, who then put me on hold, then came back in about a minute.

“That message is caused by a defective memory module. Replace the third-party memory module to solve the problem,” she said.

“But the computer is saying the problem is with cache, not with the memory,” I told her. (The cache for the G4 resides on a small board along with the CPU core, sort of like the first Pentium IIs, only it plugs into a socket.) She repeated the message to me. I was very impressed that she didn’t ask whether we’d added any memory to the system (of course we had–Apple factory memory would never go bad, I’m sure).

I seem to remember at least one of my English teachers telling me to write exactly what I mean. Obviously the Mac OS 9 programmers didn’t have any of my English teachers.

I took the memory out and cleaned it with a dollar bill, then put it back in. The system was fine for the rest of the afternoon after this, but I have my doubts about this system. If the problem returns, I’ll replace the memory. When that turns out not to be the problem, I don’t know what I’ll do.

We’ve been having some problems lately with Micron tech support as well, but there’s a big difference there. With Apple, if you don’t prove they caused the problem, well, it’s your problem, and they won’t lift a finger to help you resolve it. Compare this to Micron. My boss complained to Micron about the length of time it was taking to resolve a problem with one particular system. You know what the Micron tech said? “If this replacement CPU doesn’t work, I’ll replace the system.” We’re talking a two-year-old system here.

Now I know why Micron has more business customers than Apple does. When you pay a higher price for a computer (whether that’s buying a Micron Client Pro instead of a less-expensive, consumer-oriented Micron Millenia, or an Apple G4 instead of virtually any PC), you expect quick resolution to your computer problems because, well, your business doesn’t slow down just because your computer doesn’t work right. Micron seems to get this. Apple doesn’t.

And that probably has something to do with why our business now has 25 Micron PCs for every Mac. There was a time when that situation was reversed.

The joke was obvious, but… I still laughed really hard when I read today’s User Friendly. I guess I’m showing my age here by virtue of getting this.

Then again, three or four years back, a friend walked up to me on campus. “Hey, I finally got a 64!” I gave him a funny look. “Commodore 64s aren’t hard to find,” I told him. Then he laughed. “No, a Nintendo 64.”

It’s funny how nicknames recycle themselves.

For old times’ sake. I see that Amiga, Inc. must be trying to blow out the remaining inventory of Amiga 1200s, because they’re selling this machine at unprecedented low prices. I checked out just out of curiosity, and I can get a bare A1200 for $170. A model with a 260MB hard drive is $200.  On an Amiga, a drive of that size is cavernous, though I’d probably eventually rip out the 260-megger and put in a more modern drive.

The A1200 was seriously underpowered when it came out, but at that price it’s awfully tempting. It’s less than used A1200s typically fetch on eBay, when they show up. I can add an accelerator card later after the PowerPC migration plan firms up a bit more. And Amigas tend to hold their value really well. And I always wanted one.

I’m so out of the loop on the Amiga it’s not even funny, but I found it funny that as I started reading so much started coming back. The main commands are stored in a directory called c, and it gets referred to as c: (many crucial Amiga directories are referenced this way, e.g. prefs: and devs: ). Hard drives used to be DH0:, DF1:, etc., though I understand they changed that later to HD0:, HD1:, etc.

So what was the Amiga like? I get that question a lot. Commodore released one model that did run System V Unix (the Amiga 3000UX), but for the most part it ran its own OS, known originally as AmigaDOS and later shortened to AmigaOS. Since the OS being developed internally at Amiga, Inc., and later at Commodore after they bought Amiga, wasn’t going to be ready on time for a late 1984/early 1985 release, Commodore contracted with British software developer Metacomco to develop an operating system. Metacomco delivered a Tripos-derived OS, written in MC68000 assembly language and BCPL, that offered fully pre-emptive multitasking, multithreading, and dynamic memory allocation (two things even Mac OS 9 doesn’t do yet–OS 9 does have multithreading but its multitasking is cooperative and its memory allocation static).

Commodore spent the better part of the next decade refining and improving the OS, gradually replacing most of the old BCPL code with C code, stomping bugs, adding features and improving its looks. The GUI never quite reached the level of sophistication that Mac OS had, though it certainly was usable and had a much lower memory footprint. The command line resembled Unix in some ways (using the / for subdirectories rather than ) and DOS in others (you used devicename:filename to address files). Some command names resembled DOS, others resembled Unix, and others neither (presumably they were Tripos-inspired, but I know next to nothing about Tripos).

Two modern features that AmigaOS never got were virtual memory and a disk cache. As rare as hard drives were for much of the Amiga’s existance this wasn’t missed too terribly, though Commodore announced in 1989 that AmigaDOS 1.4 (never released) would contain these features. AmigaDOS 1.4 gained improved looks, became AmigaOS 2.0, and was released without the cache or virtual memory (though both were available as third-party add-ons).

As for the hardware, the Amiga used the same MC68000 series of CPUs that the pre-PowerPC Macintoshes used. The Amiga also had a custom chipset that provided graphics and sound coprocessing, years before this became a standard feature on PCs. This was an advantage for years, but became a liability in the early 1990s. While Apple and the cloners were buying off-the-shelf chipsets, Commodore continued having to develop their own for the sake of backward compatibility. They revved the chipset once in 1991, but it was too little, too late. While the first iteration stayed state of the art for about five years, it only took a year or two for the second iteration to fall behind the times, and Motorola was having trouble keeping up with Intel in the MHz wars (funny how history repeats itself), so the Amigas of 1992 and 1993 looked underpowered. Bled to death by clueless marketing and clueless management (it’s arguable who was worse), Commodore bled engineers for years and fell further and further behind before finally running out of cash in 1993.

Though the Amiga is a noncontender today, its influence remains. It was the first commercially successful personal computer to feature color displays of more than 16 colors (it could display up to 4,096 at a time), stereo sound, and pre-emptive multitasking–all features most of us take for granted today. And even though it was widely dismissed as a gaming machine in its heyday, the best-selling titles for the computer that ultimately won the battle are, you guessed it, games.