Hardware mailbag for Sunday

I wrote up some stuff, forgot to upload it, and lost it. I hate when that happens. So I’ll hit the mailbag for this late Sunday post.
From: Robert Bruce Thompson

Good post on AMD/Intel. At this point, the only thing saving Intel is the fact that AMD doesn’t have enough fab to keep up with demand.

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Thanks.

I know AMD and IBM have an agreement dating back to their K6 woes, and I really don’t know why AMD doesn’t have IBM manufacture Athlons and/or Durons to supplement their own capacity. There are issues with someone else making your chips like higher ramp-up time and possibly lower yields, and of course lower profits but I have to think the greater market share they’d gain until they can get another fab built would have to make it worthwhile.

I really wonder if the thing standing in the way of that isn’t technical, but rather Jerry Sanders’ “real men have fabs” attitude.

From: Robert Bruce Thompson

Well, perhaps. But his attitude is correct. Consider CPUs. Intel (bunch of fabs) = dominant; AMD (a couple fabs) = far second; everyone else (no fabs) = non-players. Same thing in chipsets. Intel (bunch of fabs) = dominant; VIA (a fab) = far second; SiS, ALi, etc. (no fabs) = non-players. But I agree that AMD should sub out CPUs to IBM, who can make chips with the best of ’em.

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But I wonder if that attitude towards fabs is what’s keeping Sanders and AMD from subcontracting; it seems almost as if using someone else would appear as an admission of weakness and he’s not willing to do it. That’s an Intel-like mistake. When opportunity comes, you have to seize it regardless of how it looks short-term.

From: J.H. Ricketson

Subject: More bargains

Dave –

Another link for surplus/overstock bargains:

www.computersurplusoutlet.com

O have placed one order with them. Completely satisfied, start to finish. Outpost couldn’t have done better. Also, they are in Nevada, which saves me, a Californican, the 8.5% local shopping penalty. They have a good selection of stuff at very good prices.

Regards,

JHR

J. H. RICKETSON
[JHR@WarlockLltd.com]

—-

Thanks.

AMD’s turnaround

AMD just turned their fourth consecutive profitable quarter, and they say they expect to sell out of Athlons this year. This exposes AMD’s prime weakness: Even though this year Intel has repeatedly failed to execute while AMD has had smooth sailing, Intel has the tremendous advantage of capacity. AMD has two fabs. I don’t remember how many Intel has. Eight?
I was talking with someone before church Wednesday night about new PCs, and he said, “I hear AMD is actually outperforming Intel these days.” AMD, of course, has always been known as the budget chip maker. In 1992, if you wanted a bargain PC, you got an AMD 386DX/40. In the mid 1990s, for a bargain you bought AMD 486s. In the late 90s, you bought AMD K6s. Suddenly, AMD’s not doing much in the low end. They’ve stopped taking orders on K6-2s and they’ll ship their final one this month. The Duron’s a great chip, but they’re not making them in huge quantities. They cite lack of an inexpensive integrated chipset, which is a perfectly valid reason, but there’s another reason. Why should they produce large numbers of Durons? They’re selling every Athlon they can make, so why sacrifice high-margin chips to make lower-margin chips?

It’s been a very interesting year. AMD bet the company on its new fab, knowing that if they made one mistake there was every possibility they were toast. Going into 2000, Intel looked like a company that could do no wrong. But Intel made tons of mistakes this year (the i810 and 1.13 GHz PIII recalls, other high-speed chips that you could read about but not buy, the lack of a suitable replacement for the venerable 440BX chipset, delays on the P4), having a year that made some of AMD’s bad years look good or at least acceptable. Meanwhile, AMD executed. Unlike some, I was fairly confident that AMD would find some way to survive, but survival was about all I expected from them, and about all anyone had any right to expect, given their track record and financial condition.

The guy at church asked if he should sell his Intel stock and get some AMD. I told him I didn’t think so. If AMD can turn around, so can Intel. As for whether AMD is a good investment, I don’t know. They’d look a whole lot better to me if they had a couple more fabs. They’re doing great on CPUs and flash memory, but they need enough capacity to be able to afford to flood the market with Durons, and they need enough capacity to be able to manufacture chipsets if they so choose, rather than developing chipsets as stopgap solutions until VIA and SiS and ALi can step in and then phasing them out. Intel learned that building both chipsets and CPUs allows you to, to a great degree, control your own destiny, not to mention make an extra $20-$30 per computer sold. Intel’s mistake was guessing incorrectly (or perhaps not caring) what consumers wanted, betting on Rambus, and then delivering a bunch of technologies that it was quickly forced to recall.

I don’t know that AMD can turn itself into a giant like Intel, but a strong AMD is good for all of us. It keeps Intel honest.

Mac “superiority” and cheap PC hardware sources

Dave flying solo. Sorry about not getting the post up there yesterday. So here’s two days’ worth, divvied up however I want.
Inherent Mac superiority… or something. When Steve Jobs unveiled the new dual G4s, he loaded up Photoshop 5.5 on a 1 GHz P3, a 500 MHz G4, and a dual G4 and applied a filter. The 500 MHz G4 finished faster than the P3, and the dual G4 finished in less than half the time. The dual G4 is faster than a 2 GHz P3, not that you can buy one, Jobs boasted.

OK Steve, let’s try a real-world test here. What’s more common, Photoshop or MS Office? The rest of us use Office more frequently. So let’s rumble. The objective: A 700-record mail merge, using Excel and Word. The contenders: A 350 MHz G3 with 192 MB RAM, a 266 MHz G3 with 256 MB RAM, and a 333 MHz P2 with 64 MB RAM.

On record #596, both Macs abort with out of memory errors, even if I crank up the amount of memory both apps can have beyond 32 MB. (Macs don’t have dynamic memory allocation.) Time elapsed: 5 minutes on the 350, 6 minutes on the 266. (I tried it on the second Mac in case there was something wrong with the first one.)

The PC zips through the job in 30 seconds without errors. (Oh yeah, and I had two Internet Exploiter windows in the background, and an extra Excel spreadsheet loaded, mostly because I was too lazy to close everything extraneous down on the PC in order to make the test fair.)

So I guess by Jobs’ logic, my 333 MHz P2, which isn’t even made anymore, is faster than a dual 2 GHz G4, not that you can buy one…

Not that I’m a Microsoft zealot by any stretch of the imagination, but I just found this amusing. It turned out the fastest and most reliable way for one of my Mac users at work to do a mail merge on her Mac is to save the Excel “database” to an NT share, then go log onto a neighbor’s NT box to do the job.

A place for potential bargains. I found a source for surplus computer gear that pretty consistently has good deals advertised at www.softwareandstuff.com. Caveat emptor: I haven’t ordered anything from them myself yet, and they have a 5.1 rating on resellerratings.com but only four evaluations. Given that, I’d say they’re somewhat promising but I’m not going to explicitly recommend either for or against them based on just that.

A sampler: They have an Athlon 550 (Slot A, non-Thunderbird) on a Soyo KT133 mobo for $150. Soyo’s not my motherboard maker of choice but that’s not a bad deal for an inexpensive system with some kick. IDE CD-ROM drives are in the $25 range. WinChip 200 CPUs (outstanding for upgrading Socket 5 systems cheaply–the 1.5X multiplier becomes a 4X multiplier with the WinChip, so a Winnie-200 is a drop-in instant replacement for a P75, and you can get it running at 200 MHz on a 66 MHz system bus if your board supports a 3x multiplier) are $30. Plextor 12X/20X CD-ROM drives are $60. If you want a cheap speed boost for your Win9x box, Fix-It Utilities 99 is $10. Norton Utilities 2000 is $20. Nuts & Bolts Platinum is $15.

Certainly an intriguing vendor. That Athlon bundle has me thinking, and that Winnie would be nice in my P120.

From: Robert Bruce Thompson

Yep. I understand that even a lot of younger hams have never built anything. That’s sad. And probably not good news.

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Agreed. But I don’t know what anyone can really do about it.

Corrections from Wednesday

Oopsies. A couple of them in yesterday’s big collection.
First, Turbo Pascal 5.5 in the link is a DOS program, not a Mac program. The Mac references appear to be because the Mac inspired certain things about that particular release.

Second, the way I replied to Jeff Hurchalla’s mail suggested I hadn’t started writing the Windows/Linux book. What I should have said was, “If I thought the book would cover the expenses I’d have to outlay to finish it,” rather than “..to write it.” All in all I wrote between 250 and 300 pages and probably have another 50 pages or so of notes. I think that qualifies as a start, by most reasonable people’s definition.

Wednesday mailbag

Short stuff today. There’s mail on nostalgia and my infamous books today, so let’s get right to them.
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From: “Jeff Hurchalla”

Subject: optimizing windows – ramdisk

Hello Dave,

First I wanted to thank you for the great book on optimizing windows. I’ve read it all now and picked up quite a bit. I think the book nicely fills a niche for windows tweakers- I know I was looking for it for a while. One thing I noticed, if you do a second ed. you might include information on hard disk setups -how IDE and SCSI work, RAID, and what cable and role(master/slave) to use for that new second IDE hard drive.

One tip to add could be the format /z command when using fat32. This undocumented /z switch sets the cluster size in number of sectors.. so “format /z:64” would create 64 sectors/cluster or 32k clusters. I got this from prorec.com a while back. You might want to check out their site just for the music recording discussions, never mind that they do a great job describing how to optimize for digital audio(I think the advice is generally applicable for any computer).

I really want to ask you about a problem I’m having when I run windows95(osr2) from ramdisk. I have it working, mostly as described, but user.dat and system.dat are pesky. I had to put these both into the ramdisk hard drive directory(the one with himem.sys. setver.exe, etc) to get it to boot. Io.sys looks at the registry early in the boot process way before it gets to autoexec.bat(where the ramdisk is created). So it’s not trivial to find a way to create the ramdisk and get the registry in there, where I think it belongs, in time to satisfy io.sys. The solution to put the registry in the ramdisk directory isn’t very good because windows constantly updates the registry(and usually for no apparent reason). Do you have any ideas for how to get the registry in the ram early, or how to get windows to switch to using the registry in the ramdisk later on? It would also be ok, though maybe not as satisfying, to somehow set windows to stop automatically updating the registry just because it’s apparently noticed 15 seconds of time has passed. I also thought to use lilo (possibly modified) to do some work with a ramdisk and then load a bootsect.dos, but I don’t know enough to tell if it could work. I used to have linux set up, but everything’s standard right now.

I read in your views that the outlook for your linux/win2k book is not very good. That’s a shame. I’d really like to read it in the future. I hope something works out.

Take care, Jeff

———-

Well, first off, thanks for the compliments. It’s things like that that make the time and effort that go into writing a book worthwhile.

I had forgotten the FAT32 cluster trick; that is a good one but you might as well just use FAT16 if you’re going to make big clusters–unless the 2GB limit bites you. So, yes, I can see it being useful.

I believe I did talk about hard drive setups, but I may have neglected it. Rather than look it up, I’ll be lazy and just state it: Hard drives should always be masters. If you must put two drives on a channel, make the newer, more modern drive the master. RAID would certainly be a good topic, and one that’s sorely missed from the book. I think I did a decent job of predicting some of the up-and-coming stuff, but two things that I missed were IDE RAID and USB networking. They didn’t exist in the summer of 1999 when I wrote the bulk of the book, and I didn’t anticipate them.

The chances of a second edition appear to be pretty slim, unfortunately. I could write another book for another publisher, provided I’m very careful not to violate the copyright I sold to O’Reilly, but I would almost certainly burn some bridges by doing that and that’s not exactly something I want to do, whether I agree with how O’Reilly marketed the book or not. I’m almost hesitant to say anything about it or even mention that possibility.

As for the Linux/W2K book, it’s tough to say what to do with it. There are a lot of things I’d love to say about it, but again, I’d burn some bridges that I probably shouldn’t. A year ago when it looked like both W2K and Linux 2.4 would be released within six months, it looked like a blockbuster book. With 2.4 delayed and W2K failing to take over the world, it’s becoming a tough sell, and frankly I’m getting really sick of the topic. I also know I tend to take some unpopular stances on the issues involved, which probably doesn’t help. If I thought the book would cover the expenses I’d have to outlay to write it, I’d be much more inclined to do it. So far for me, writing for O’Reilly has proven to be a very expensive hobby. (And if anyone from O’Reilly reads my site and doesn’t like hearing me say that, tough.)

I’ll probably re-evaluate after the 2.4 kernel starts firming up some more, and once my wrists start looking like they’ll hold up or I get the hang of NaturallySpeaking. As for my next book, if there is another one, I don’t want it to involve Linux, and I want to write for a small indie publisher who only releases a half-dozen or so books a year.

As for the registry problem in your ramdisk, did you make the modifications to msdos.sys? Specifically, the line WinBootDir parameter must point to the ramdisk, while WinBootDir points to your directory containing the boot files.

The only other thing that I can think of that might cause those symptoms would be if when you installed Windows to the surrogate partition, Setup may have found your old registry and grabbed some data from it, forcing you to keep the registry on your HD rather than in ram.

I messed around with the ramdisk trick for an entire weekend (literally–I didn’t do anything else for two and a half days) getting it to work right, and for all I remember, I may have spent a few evenings preceeding that weekend working on it. I do know this: Microsoft never intended for anyone to do that, which of course just made me all the more determined to do it.

Let me know if that doesn’t fix the problem, because I’m really curious now what may have caused it. I’ll think on it some more.

———-

From: “Gary M. Berg”

Subject: Pascal on the Mac

You can always pick up Turbo Pascal 5.5 from Borland for free: http://community.borland.com/article/0,1410,20803,00.html

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Thanks. For that matter, Borland made older versions of Turbo C and Pascal available for DOS too, which isn’t bad for quick-and-dirty stuff. I found the older versions of Turbo Pascal for DOS produced smaller, tighter executables than the later versions (I mostly used version 7, back in 1992-93). And I believe at least one of their Windows C compilers is available for free now too.
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From: “Brent Dickerson”

Subject: voice recognition stuff

In case your interested in reading another’s short eval. The link may not work after today. brentfd

http://www.gazette.com/weekly/ibiz/biz9.html

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Thanks. That’s the first positive piece I’ve read on VoiceXPress, but their findings on ViaVoice are certainly consistent with my experience and with what I’ve read elsewhere–though ViaVoice improves considerably with a good mic. I still prefer NaturallySpeaking though, and I get better results than he did, but again, with a highly recommended mic and sound card combo.
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From: Robert Bruce Thompson

Subject: RE:

Hmm. When I was in high school, the first integrated circuits were still in R&D labs. That was 1971 or thereabouts.
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By the time I was in high school (1989-1993), “build your own computer” meant driving up to Gateway Electronics, buying a 386sx motherboard, I/O card and video card, some memory and a case, then assembling it all yourself. This was slightly more exotic than today when you can go down the street to get your parts.

I was an anomaly in that I owned an Amiga, whose system boards didn’t change much and were very well documented, so there were literally dozens of hacks available on BBSs to add features to them–most involved at least a little soldering and some involved discrete components. So that’s where most of my experience with discrete components comes from.

Most twentysomethings like me never had to build our own circuit boards and can’t imagine doing so. I was surprised to see modifications requiring soldering to start popping up on the hardware sites, because I know an awful lot of overclockers are my age and have never soldered delicate electronics before.

I dated a girl a few years ago who vaguely remembered her dad building a computer from a kit in the late 1970s. He’d tell her what component he needed, and she’d find it from the pile and give it to him. With me being a computer professional, she was pretty proud of that. She knew not many people in our generation had even that experience.

Mac emulation and insights

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

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

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

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

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

———-

From: Robert Bruce Thompson

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

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

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

Geez.

———-

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

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

Fixing stuff, computer and recording-related

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A nice Internet utility

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

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

Fixing Win9x with bootlog.txt

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

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

Amiga influence on Linux

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

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