Optimizing Windows questions from readers

Do you still think Netsonic is the best browser cache program ?Is there anything better than Netsonic, to speed up web surfing ?

Is there anything better than EasyMTU/ispeed to optimize one’s modem ?

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I haven’t found anything better than either. All of the MTU-type programs do essentially the same thing, the question is how much you want to pay for a utility that flips a couple of bits in the registry. EasyMTU and iSpeed do the job, and they’re free.

As for NetSonic, I haven’t found anything I like better. That program category, like fastloaders, was a great idea that never really caught on and it makes for slim pickings today. —

Subject: What new book(s) are you working on now?

Who will be your publisher, and what is your planned publication date for your upcoming book(s) ?

Is there a way to search all of your views (from #1 to #37) for a
particular topic or string ?

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The new book will be from O’Reilly. The topic is Linux, from the point of view of someone familiar with Windows (something that’s desperately needed, as I adamantly disagree with the view some hold that Linux needs to look, breathe, and act just like Windows. Next thing you know someone will be wanting it to crash like Windows too. The solution isn’t 4.3 billion clicky utilities that do one thing and give people RSI from too much mousing when there’s already a time-tested three-letter command with more power than most mortals can possibly imagine to do the job sitting right there–but I digress.) It’s maybe half-finished, so I don’t know yet when it will be finished, published or released. It hasn’t been announced yet, so very little has been decided (including the title). I understand there will be a “small mammal” on the cover. Sorry to be vague; that really is just about all I know.

As for a search engine, I’ve looked into some possibilities and haven’t really liked any of them. I know I’ve been indexed by Google and possibly others, so you could search for “Farquhar” and certain strings. It’s a crude solution. I do have something better up my sleeve but it’s likely to be a few months before I get a chance to implement it, as it will require me to change providers along with a whole bunch of other work.

What are “fastloaders” programs, mentioned in you email below ?

Can you give me the names of a few, and from where can I download them, to test them out ?

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I talk about them on page 71 of Optimizing Windows. One came with Norton Utilities and one with Nuts & Bolts; neither is compatible with Win98. (The Norton tool was better.) SuperFasst, from www.webcelerator.com, is compatible with both Win95 and 98. These programs use various tricks to shave a few seconds off program loading times. This was a bigger deal in 1995 than today (modern disks can load Word in 3 seconds, after all–SuperFasst might cut that down to 2-2.5, which isn’t a very noticeable difference). You might find you like it. I found it didn’t make a big enough difference for me to be worth the decreased stability now that fast hard disks are common and dirt cheap.
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More Windows speed-ups. I took a look today at www.webcelerator.com. These guys provide Superfasst, which I mentioned in Optimizing Windows. They’ve got a few new utilities to offer now, the most interesting of which creates images of CDs and then emulates a CD-ROM drive. This would be very, very useful for wringing more performance out of games that use a CD-ROM.

The downside to these guys is they want to monopolize your browser’s homepage. Change your homepage to something other than theirs, and their programs stop working. That’s a bit obnoxious. It would be nice if they’d offer a payment option. It is nice that they aren’t opting for the adware/spyware route (I think–I haven’t examined any of these tools in well over a year). I thought I’d pass along what I found though.

Voice recognition

Voice recognition. The great David Pogue e-mailed me over the weekend, at Tim O’Reilly’s urging, to talk a little about Dragon Naturally Speaking, which he says is better than ViaVoice. He says he gets about 110 wpm out of it.
So I did a ton of research to see what kind of hardware you want for Naturally Speaking. Consensus seems to be the SoundBlaster Live! Platinum is what you want (retail $199), plus a noise-reducing condenser mic, which can be had for around $75, and as much CPU power as you can muster. David’s had good success with a PII-300, so my Celeron-400, refitted with the SB Live! and a good mic, ought to be OK. If it turns out to be inadequate, the AMD Duron-600 is dirt cheap and suitable mobos are finally widely available.

With a good mic and a sound card with clean audio inputs, many people claim 95-97 percent accuracy out of the box, climbing to 99 percent accuracy within 1-2 weeks of heavy use. We’ll see. I’m still skeptical, but willing to take the risk. As I told David, sound cards and microphones are cheaper than wrists.

If you’re interested in taking the plunge, wait. Naturally Speaking 5.0’s release is imminent. Don’t race out to buy v4 only to find v5 on your next office supply run.

Attention, bargain hunters: The SB Live! Platinum, SB Live! MP3+, and SB Live! Gamer are all the same card. Avoid the SB Live! Value (now discontinued), as it used a different chip. The difference between the three remaining cards, besides the bundled software, is the 5.25″ bay insert that replicates all the jacks and puts them up front. I like that, so that’s the direction I’ll go. That insert costs as much as the card, however, so if you need a high-end sound card but don’t want to pay $200 for it, get one of the other cards in the SB Live! series.

You can upgrade later by adding an insert, but you’re looking at $150 to do it.

Busting ads

Spam. Brightmail caught three pieces of spam for me in the past week. Four got through. It’s disappointing, but maybe they’ll get better with time. And 3 out of 7 is pretty close to Mike Sweeney’s batting average with the bases loaded, and no one complains about that.
Calling it a week. My apologies for Wednesday’s post not making it up until Thursday night. I wrote it, then forgot to upload it. Figures. The things that make me creative also can make me eccentric and scatterbrained sometimes.

I’m out of town for a family event. I’ll be in Kansas City, and while I have relatives with computers there I doubt I’ll be using them. So have a good weekend. I’ll be back Monday, in all likelihood.

Mail.

From: “al wynn”
To:
Sent: Friday, September 08, 2000 1:15 AM
Subject: What is the best COMMERCIAL ad-blocking utility for Windows95 out there (that is better than Proxomitron) ?

Can you tell me what is the best COMMERCIAL ad-blocking program for Windows95 out there (that is better than Proxomitron) ?
h question. The only commercial program that did that that I know of was WRQ’s AtGuard, which is now part of Symantec’s Norton Internet Security 2000. I played around with AtGuard a while last year when I was writing Optimizing Windows, but I didn’t like it any better than Proxomitron or Junkbuster (or the enhanced version). You might also check out AdSubtract, which is based on the Proxomitron engine but is less configurable and does a better job out of the box.

eMachine upgrade advice

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

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

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

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

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

Protecting your privacy online

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

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

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

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

Comeback trail marred by junk browsers

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

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

And my inning is up.

Another publication

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

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

Father’s Day and wrist injuries

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

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

MP3s won’t kill the music industry

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

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

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

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

Trustworthy consulting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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