Fixing a troublesome hard drive. Some time ago, one of my church’s staffers handed me a 10-gig Western Digital hard drive he couldn’t get working. “When you have time,” he said. I took it home, set it on my desk and promptly forgot about it, until yesterday, when I was helping someone out with setting jumpers a WD drive and I remembered I had a recent WD drive…

So I threw it in my Dual Celeron-366, which has sort of become my testbed system, to see what I could get from it. The system detected it fine. Good. Try booting… I find that EZ-Drive utility that everyone installs, even though with a plug-in UDMA card (and I know they use those) there’s no need for it. With a recent BIOS there shouldn’t be any need for it, unless you’ve got flaky BIOSes like me. But we won’t go there. But it doesn’t boot. Boot off a floppy, run FDISK, and I find a 9.7 GB non-DOS partition.

I call to verify whether the drive has any valuable data on it. None? Low-level format time.  I download Western Digital’s utility suite and run its quick test. It passes with flying colors. WD doesn’t offer a true low-level format, but the utilities can zero out the drive. Close enough. That’ll get rid of EZ-Drive.

And now, an editorial statement, if I may. Western Digital makes the most overrated hard drives in existance. I’ll daresay Western Digital hard drives are the most overrated piece of computer hardware, period. In my experience, I’ve found Quantums and Maxtors and IBMs to be faster, and I’ve had less trouble with them.

And speaking of EZ-Drive, do the manuals that come with new retail-packaged hard drives tell you you have to install it? I confess, I usually buy bare OEM drives since they’re cheaper, and the last couple of times I’ve bought retail kits for work, I did the stereotypical male thing and didn’t read the instructions. Seeing as I could have written the instructions, I didn’t see the need. Come to think of it, I almost never read the instructions unless I’m just totally out of my league (like when I was learning Linux). I learn more that way.

As I was writing this, the zeroing finished, no bad sectors, and I partitioned the drive and SYSed it. Good deal.

Optimizing Windows. Curtis Horn writes in that Amazon’s selling it (to him at least) for $7.50. No one’s making any money at that price, but hey. It might be Amazon experimenting with supply and demand again, who knows. But if you’ve been putting it off, now’s a good time to get it (assuming the price is still good and shipping doesn’t end up being 20 bucks). The link’s to the left, as always.

Computer Shopper UK. Chris Miller warns me that features don’t stay up there forever, so if you want the first installment of the “Optimise Your PC” series, I suggest you get over there quickly and print yourself a copy.


Radio Free Linux? I found these instructions for broadcasting audio with Linux very interesting, though of questionable legality. When you broadcast music, you’re supposed to pay the artist, or the artist’s representative, a cut. That’s how Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney made their money–they bought up rights to songs besides their own. Their record royalties are a pittance in comparison.

I’m guessing we’ll be seeing plenty of Linux-based pirate Radio stations, since the required software’s all free and the system requirements minimal.

Search engine hits. I’ll take these recent search engine queries as questions. Editthispage keeps track of the links people follow to get here. I’m sure some of the privacy people out there are throwing a fit about this, but that’s pretty standard behavior for Webservers. The better you know your audience, the better you can serve them, as I’m going to attempt to demonstrate. (Might as well reward these people if they come back, eh?)

As usual, the difference between good and evil or right and wrong comes down to the answer to one question: What’s your motive?

The built-in memory test. I assume this person was looking for information on the standard POST (Power-On Self Test) built into every PC. What about it? It’s worthless. If the memory module is in really bad shape, it might fail that test. But many of these tests simply count the memory, since fast memory tests give the impression of being a faster board. For a good memory tester, see RAM Stress Test (expensive, unfortunately). For troubleshooting, maybe a local computer store has a memory tester. For preventative maintenance, it’s less expensive to buy quality name-brand memory.

Windows Me DNS cache. Ah, someone’s thinking. A DNS cache is an outstanding way to speed up or optimize Internet access. The only true DNS cache that I know of that runs under Windows is Naviscope , which also does ad blocking but doesn’t do as good of a job as AdSubtract or Proxomitron. Since Naviscope can use a proxy server itself, you could point it at Proxomitron, assuming you have buckets of memory for running Internet utilities.

If you happen to be running a Linux box to route packets to a broadband connection, you can take this advice.

Underground ADSL. No idea what the user meant but I know exactly why it hit. I’ve talked about ADSL, and the site’s name will produce a search hit. Since DSL uses existing underground cable, sites talking about DSL installation will get hits, as will a lot of sites of questionable character (hacking and phreaking sites).


Troubleshooting Windows NT and Outlook. This one had me totally stumped. We have a PC that’s always been a little flaky, but very recently Outlook just stopped working reliably. Access violations every 5-20 minutes, always at the same address, became the norm. In addition, it would claim to run out of memory every time you tried to read anything other than a plain-text message.

I traced the latter problem to a corrupt normal.dot file; he was using Word as his e-mail editor and as his format for fancy messages.

Finally, I coaxed another error message out of it while logged in with an administrative account: Unable to find or register vbscript.dll. Fine. Time to uninstall, run Eraser 97 to get rid of the last of those bits, then reinstall both Office 97 and Outlook 98.

Vbscript.dll still didn’t register, so I grabbed a copy off a working PC, dropped it in WinntSystem32, and issued the command regsvr32 vbscript.dll to register it. It took.I launched Outlook 98, Word 97, and Internet Explorer 5, since that combination seems best able to coax whatever errors out of Outlook I’m going to get. I configured Outlook to go read my mail account via IMAP and waited. Access violation once again.

So I loaded a program we have from Seagate Software, called Modules.exe I believe. It tells you exactly what’s loaded in memory and at what address. Being able to count in hexadecimal doesn’t get you any dates, but it sometimes helps you troubleshoot a problem. Plus it lets you make jokes about how much more fun it makes you at parties. So I sort by memory address, look at the ranges, and find the culprit. I forget the name of the DLL offhand, but the description Modules gave was “Outlook Network Folders.” Net Folders. Net Folders: one of the best but most poorly implemented ideas Microsoft ever foisted upon the unsuspecting masses.

So I copied that DLL over from the properly-working machine, then used the command-line utility fc.exe to compare them–if they’re different, I’ve found my culprit. I compare them, and find they’re identical.

That leaves two possibilities: Either the OS is corrupt beyond repair and just needs a clean re-install from scratch, or we’ve got a hardware problem. I find it suspicious that the problem always occurs at the same address, so I take the address, translate it into decimal using Windows’ calculator, then divide it by 1024 and then by 1024 again to get the address in megabytes rather than in bytes, and I get… 1221-something. Ouch. In a machine with 64 MB of RAM? So I went and found a programmer to confirm whether I was running through the right mathematical process. Indeed I was. He asked what kind of memory translation Intel PCs and Windows NT do (he’s a VMS programmer).   Then I remembered NT uses a 4-gigabyte address space, regardless of how much physical memory is there. So much for getting a number between 0 and 64 that I could use to determine which DIMM in the system was bad.

So instead, I just swapped the DIMMs. The problem went away. A smoking gun! Problem is, which of the two was bad? I can’t just leave it that way, because eventually something else will break.

Popping out RAM Stress Test , from the unfortunately-named Ultra-X, Inc., is the best way I’ve found to conclusively find a bad module. So I ran it for a couple of hours. Nothing. So I left it to run over the weekend. Hopefully that will turn up the problem by the time I return to the office on Monday.

And of course the PC in question is the one on the desk of one of our most important executives. Figures.

A minor change. Seeing as I have a growing number of British readers, still cursed with dialup connections, and since I tend to write really long, I switched to a three-day view rather than the seven-day view I’ve been using. Older pieces are of course accessible through the calendar and through the Best of this Page link, both to the left.


This can’t wait. The two graphics giants have wed, sort of. nVidia has purchased 3dfx’s core assets.  That’s the end of the line for 3dfx.

This leaves nVidia as the undisputed leader in 3D graphics, and in graphics, we’re now down to a Big Three of nVidia, ATi and Matrox, with ATi and Matrox making boards and nVidia supplying other board manufacturers such as Guillemot and Creative.

So, what went wrong? A lot of things. They were late delivering new products. They lost focus, buying out struggling boardmaker STB and entering the graphics card business. In doing so, they entered foreign territory and they alienated their former allies. Rather than strengthening their brand, it weakened it–suddenly there was one company promoting their stuff, rather than six or seven. Then the combined company had to sell their product for such a low price, it killed profitability and harmed them more than it harmed the competition. Dumping only works when you’re much bigger than your competitiors.

They made a good product, and really, they deserve a lot of credit for reinvigorating the PC game market. But history is littered with the carcasses of companies that made great contributions but weren’t able to remain competitive for one reason or another.

Apologies for the supershort post. I’ve got a story to tell, and that’s the main reason why my mind isn’t working so well right about now. It’ll be here in the morning.

Corel pulling out of the Linux market? It’s no great surprise, but there are reports that Corel’s selling its Linux business.

The original P4 design. If you thought the Pentium 4 seemed underly ambitious, there’s a reason for it. Read about what it almost was at The Register.

Makes me wonder if once they get down to .13 micron, if they might not dust off more elements of the original design and give it a shot. AMD may force their hand, if their 32/64-bit Sledgehammer CPU is as good as they’re saying it will be. (Question is, is that the engineering department or the marketing department talking?)

By the way, there are Linux distributions incompatible with the P4. They don’t recognize the CPU so they refuse to run. The various companies are releasing patches to fix the problem.


Jumbo HD woes. My 15-gig Quantum drive mysteriously started working right from the regular UMDA-33 controller on my Abit BP6 yesterday. Totally out of the blue. That’s what makes this problem so maddening; it’s intermittent. I’m going to stick with keeping the drive connected to the UDMA-66 controller though, since this is a UDMA-66 drive.

And my March article for Shopper is almost complete. I need to come up with a good lead and a good closer, figure out whether I can fit one more trick into the 200 or so words I have left, and then fire it off to London. I could have done another book rehash but I decided to write this one from scratch, and I think it’s pretty good.

A useful modems link. Modems are mostly a thing of the past for me, but I know a lot of my readers (especially those in the UK) aren’t so fortunate. There’s a large and authoritative guide to modems at http://modems.rosenet.net/ .

Snow. There’s a family from Michigan who recently joined our church. I remember one of them saying recently, “I keep telling the kids it doesn’t snow in Missouri.”

Well, not quite like it does in Michigan. But the seven inches or so of the white stuff sitting on the ground outside right now testifies that it can snow in Missouri. This isn’t Florida. So I’m guessing this was a bit of a rude surprise to them–not that they can’t handle driving in it.

Rick Sutcliffe may return to the Cubs. As a television analyst , not as a pitcher.

The Chicago Cubs are looking for a replacement for longtime analyst Steve Stone, who retired this year. Rick, who’s worked for the last two seasons as a part-time analyst for ESPN and for the San Diego Padres, is one of the candidates to replace him.

Rick and I are cousins, which explains the strong feelings I have about the Cubs, the team where he had the most longevity.


Windows and dot-matrix printers. Why do I remember this old, next-to-useless information? I was talking today with someone at work about traits inherited from our parents. We both thought we got our parents’ worst stuff, but I must have gotten my dad’s memory.

But I digress, as usual. Over on Shopper UK’s message boards there was a question about using an old Star Micronics LX-10 dot-matrix printer with Windows 2.5. A Star Micronics rep (I had no idea the company was still in business!) was stumped–the printer’s old enough that it’s not in Star’s database, I guess. The model number seems vaguely familiar to me, but I don’t know anything specific about it other than it must be a pre-1987 printer because by then Star was making the NX-1000 and not much else (I know because I had one). But the trick to running a dot matrix printer with any piece of software if you can’t find an exact driver is to first try an Epson LQ series driver, then try an Epson FX series, then try an Epson MX series. In that order.

Virtually all dot-matrix printers (Okidata, Star, Citizen, Panasonic) were Epson-compatible; the major differences between various printers were number of pins (24, 9, or 7), speed, and number of built-in fonts. An Epson driver won’t get you all your printer’s unique features, but it will at least get it working.

I don’t know how many people need this kind of information anymore, but I might as well put it online as it comes up. Since search engines have this site indexed, people will find it.

Speaking of Shopper UK, Chris Miller tells me my first “Optimise Your PC” article is now up on their site, at www.computershopper.co.uk . Registration is required (sorry), but it’s there if you want to read it. The second article in the series will appear in the February issue, and the third (which I’m writing now) in March. Presumably that means they’ll be online in approximately a month and two months, respectively.

I’ve come up with a method to dual-boot Windows 98 and Windows Me (or any other two systems that don’t get along) using Partition Magic and Boot Magic. It’s so easy it ought to be considered cheating. Now to accomplish the same thing with XOSL… And I thought I had more to say but I’m out of time. If you mailed me the last couple of days, I’ll get back to you shortly.


~Mail follows today’s post~

Mailbag time. I had things to say, but after cranking out the first 700+ words for my next magazine article in a span of a couple of hours (it was slow going), I’ll just let the audience determine my direction.

First, Chris Miller, whose mail has stirred up so much activity around here of late (and that’s a good thing).

Hi Dave

A quick response to my critic John Braue who questioned my use of the phrase “bending the rules for the greater good” and then (perhaps inadvertantly) appeared to compare Lincoln and Roosevelt to Hitler and Stalin. I take the point to some extent, but in a way, John, you have answered your own criticism by adding the proviso “and indeed, smash [the rules] all to pieces”. Of course there is a difference between “bending” and “smashing” rules.

Regardless, it is problematic and ultimately futile to make the comparison – and not only because of history, as Lincoln’s reforms led the US out of the age of slavery and FDR’s New Deal arguably saved the nation, while Hitler and Stalin led their countries to turmoil, war and near-destruction. The main difference is that, while all were originally placed in power by the people, the US presidents, unlike their European counterparts, remained accountable to the people. If the people didn’t like Abe’s and FDR’s policies, they could simply vote them out. And, of course, neither was defeated in an election; both died in office.

Thanks for your comments about Shopper, Dave, and I hope we continue to do a good job with our new design in place. I also hope we can continue to celebrate (if that’s the word) the cultural differences between our countries and, indeed, all the English-speaking nations.

A note on usage: both ‘-ise’ and ‘-ize’ endings are acceptable in British English, although misguided UK traditionalists insist on ‘-ise’ as they see ‘-ize’ as ‘American’. In fact, it is British in origin. Of course, reactionary xenophobic fools never let facts get in the way of a complaint. We use ‘-ise’ and avoid ‘-ize’ in an attempt to be consistent, but it could just as easily be the other way round.

I’m aware that the names of pop bands function as plural here and singular over there, which is a strange one. Perhaps it’s because so many of our early pop groups had ‘plural’ names (the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks etc) and it has stuck. Having said that, the great 60s and 70s US soul bands usually followed the same pattern (the Supremes, the Temptations etc). Would you, then, say, “The Spice Girls is one of the most successful female bands of all time”?

No, you would probably say “The Spice Girls is terrible” if you are a Joy Division fan…

All the best

There is a difference between the likes of FDR and Lincoln and the likes of Hitler and Stalin, certainly. Neither FDR nor Lincoln attempted to disrupt the due process of elections and thus remained accountable, yes. Nor did either kill their political opponents. I have a real problem with FDR trying to pack the Supreme Court to make some of his blatantly unconstitutional policies stick, and while the New Deal made the people feel better, World War II had much more to do with pulling the United States (and the world) out of the Depression.

Both men, however, walked a dangerous line. They had the integrity to walk it without stepping too far out of bounds. Hitler and Stalin were the closest things the 20th Century ever saw to the embodiment of pure evil; I believe that the idea that some things are absolute–these things you always do, no matter what, and these things over here you never do, no matter what–can help serve to keep men like them in check.

Even more so, providing a safe environment for your political enemies is a must, and that’s something the United States has lost sight of. To hear our politicians speak, today’s opponents are just a notch or two away from a Hitler or a Stalin, and the stakes of winning and losing are growing ever higher. If we reach the point of persecution due to election results, then it’s time to really seriously think about getting out of here. And I say that in all seriousness.

And come on: You and I are, from what I can gather, politically more distant than Bush and Gore. But we’re civil towards one another and even work together. Difference of opinion is a good thing. If you and I know that, why can’t they?

When we lose sight of that idea, then we slide down a very slippery slope. We had a somewhat similar situation to this many, many years ago, when Aaron Burr more or less murdered Alexander Hamilton. Fortunately for the United States, other men in Burr’s party recognized him for what he really was after this sad incident, and Burr’s political career came to a rapid close. I don’t know if the political parties of today have that kind of restraint–we’ll start to see later this week–and I think that fear is the reason why the names Hitler and Stalin come up.

As for Shopper, I’m mostly thrilled to see there’s still a staff somewhere that gives a rip about producing a quality computer magazine. I see things in Shopper that I haven’t seen anywhere in a U.S. magazine since the late, great Compute folded in the early ’90s. So when I find something good, I feel obligated to say something about it. It’s just too bad it’s so #$%! expensive to ship it across the Atlantic.

And as for the language, your question of “The Spice Girls is” vs. “The Spice Girls are” would raise a major debate in the editorial office. Chances are, “is” would win out, as the band is a singular entity, but it sure sounds illiterate, even to my American ears. So I cracked out Working With Words, the best practical guide I can find to US English grammar, and the way I read it, yes, the singular is correct, but sounds so bad that you should write around it, e.g. “One of the most successful female bands of all time is The Spice Girls,” or “A great example of a terrible band is The Spice Girls.” Because, let’s face it, “The Spice Girls is terrible” sounds like it should be followed by, “Hank Williams Jr. kicks #*%!” No wonder you think we’re all cowboys over here…

An interesting passage from Working With Words, page 28:

The jury was unanimous. But The jury were split. (Sounds odd, but you can’t always trust your ear when it comes to traditional grammar. To avoid the obvious ugliness of The jury were split, it it possible to add the word members after jury, or, better yet, to substitute the word jurors.)

I’m trying to figure out if it should bother me that I’m amused by this…

This doesn’t really need any comment, other than the observation that a popular t-shirt in the crowd I ran around with when Dubya’s dad was running against Bill Clinton read, “Tanned, Rested and Ready: Nixon ’92.”

From: Dave Wootten


(to the tune of “We Need a Little Christmas” from “Mame”)
(with apologies to Jerry Herman)

Throw out the lawsuits;
Decide the vote before the market falls again.
Fill in the winner,
I may be rushing things,
But close the ballot box now!

For we need a Richard Nixon
Right this very minute,
Before a re-count kicks in,
And nobody will win it

Yes, we need a Richard Nixon
Right this very minute.
The ballot cards are getting blurry,
The nation, Dick, is in a hurry.

So calm down Dade County:
You had the biggest string of lies I’ve ever seen.
Fill up the courtroom;
It’s time we Gored-whom-ever, steals the vote from us now.

For I’ve grown a little meaner,
Grown a little colder,
Grown a little sadder,
All this on my shoulder,

And I need a little angel
Telling me “I-told-ya”
Need a Richard Nixon now.

Call off the hand counts:
If you demand counts – you are, losing anyway;
Stop the election,
But Leave-her-man, it’s four weeks
Past Election Day now!
But we need a Richard Nixon
Right this very minute,
Bush and Gore are losin’
No matter how they “spin” it.

Yes, we need a Richard Nixon
Right this very minute.
Electors might just have to scurry
Or this might go down to a jury.

So tone down the media:
Or they’ll concede ya’ – lost it – on Election Day
Slice up the precincts:
It’s time we hung some neo-politician right now!

For we don’t need Thomas Brokaw,
Don’t need Daniel Rather,
Don’t need Peter Jennings,
Spewing out their blather.

And we need a little snappy
“Happy ever after,”
Need a Richard Nixon now.

Need a Richard Nixon now.


From: David_Blodgett@doh.state.fl.us
Subject: >8GB Hard Drives
I just read today’s post and say your problem getting 8.4GB HD to work.  I almost hesitated to mention this, but do you have the latest BIOS for your motherboards?  As I’m sure you know, in the past we’ve gone though many hard drive BIOS limitations, first around 500+ MB, then 2GB and most recently just over 8GB.  Even a year old MB that has not had a BIOS update might have problems with the bigger drives.

Also, if you’re dual booting, make sure the partitions that could be active for booting an os are totally with in the first 8GB.  Most MS os’s have problems if the boot partition (or system partition for NT) crosses that line.  I believe Win2000 is not affected by this, but I could be wrong (I’ve seen NT blow up).

Good Luck, and I love the site

David J Blodgett

I have very recent BIOSes in all of them (I had a problem with the latest BIOS on one board so I went back one revision). Can’t check right now for the very latest because my ISP’s having problems. The BIOS is always the first thing I suspect.
The drive does work, for the most part–I can see all of it. But the BIOS is reporting a 500-meg drive, and some utilities see the contradiction and squawk about it, as they probably should. Then some of them refuse to work, as they probably shouldn’t.
Thanks for the warning on the OS. I generally install each OS on a dedicated 2 GB partition, then put apps and data on separate partitions. By that design, I’m not too likely to go past that 8 GB. I think that’s less of an issue with Windows 98 and on, but it’s a good thing to keep in mind. I might as well test it while I’ve got a system torn down to that level so I can say with authority. (This is a Windows 9x-oriented article anyway, but I might as well throw NT and 2K into the mix if I still have the space.)
I’m glad you enjoy the site. Thanks!

From: “Jan Swijsen” <qjsw@nospam.oce.nl>
Subject: strings

DF>Strings are good for guitars, not computers.
<g>And I thought that Perl was fantastic with strings.


DF>Computer Shopper is every bit as well-designed.
<g>Not just well-designed. It packs loads of between the lines hinted humour. Real British.  American mags are way to ‘business’ oriented, there is no fun in them.


I should know better than to make puns with you watching; you’ll come in and out-do me every time. Though a non-programmer will get mine…

I was talking with Di (my sister) about writing for a British magazine, and I mentioned the stereotypes. Americans tend to think of the British as overly stuffy and formal; the British, from what I can tell, think we’re all cowboys. Shopper’s definitely not overly stuffy and formal (unlike US computer mags, none of which I bother to pay for anymore and I’ve been trying to let my InfoWorld subscription lapse for well over a year and THEY WON’T LET ME!), which blows that stereotype, and in my upcoming article I talk about listening to the British New Wave bands Joy Division and A Flock of Seagulls, which should establish me as something other than a cowboy.

I noticed their humor in the selection of the art for this upcoming article.  I probably laughed for five minutes after I saw it in PDF form.


Hardware upgrades. CPU prices are pretty flat, while memory prices are still under $1/MB, even for Crucial ($92 with free shipping as of last night). The Mushkin 222 memory, recommended by some enthusiasts as faster and more stable still, is $114 for a 128-meg stick. They’ve just revised the design; this is the pricing on the older 2.0 revision. I’m guessing that’s a “while they last” price. The rev 3.0 is $133 for a 128-meg stick.

While I used Mushkin memory years ago and had no problems with it, I haven’t used this stuff. I’m just going by what people are telling me.

If you’re looking to get something immediately, this is a good time of course. Prices are pretty steady on CPUs, memory and motherboards. But if you can wait a couple of months, it’d be a good idea to do so. You’ll get better performance out of DDR and an Athlon with the 266 MHz FSB. The FSB and memory bandwidth are much, much more important to overall system performance than raw clock speed. Buying a 1.2 GHz system right now is comparable to what buying a 66 MHz 486 with only ISA slots would have been in 1993. The CPU just isn’t the bottleneck anymore. DDR will help some.

How to buy memory. Whatever you do, please don’t buy commodity memory. Don’t just go to PriceWatch, search on RAM, and buy the cheapest stuff. You have no idea who made the module, who made the chips, what grade the chips were (some chips that get put onto commodity modules were never certified for use in PCs and were only suitable for use in other devices like pagers), whether the module may have been repaired… A lifetime warranty is no insurance. Bottom-feeder dealers know the majority of users will never trace problems back to them and exchange the memory. Buy name-brand memory, please.

If you’re in the shop and you’re buying loose sticks, here’s what to look for. Look for a sticker or silkscreen on the board that states the manufacturer. Make sure it’s made by a company you’ve heard of. Make sure the RAM chips are all made by the same manufacturer, and that they actually have a manufacturer’s name on them. Chips that only have a country of origin on them should have never gone onto a PC memory module. Mismatched chips are a likely sign of after-the-fact modification. Don’t buy.

If you want to get really sneaky, check the dates of manufacture on the chips. It’s a 4-digit code. A chip manufactured today would read 0050 (read year 2000, week 50). If the chips don’t have the same date, don’t buy. It’s probably refurbished. If the date isn’t very recent, don’t buy. It’s probably used. Dealers generally don’t keep huge inventories of memory because it’s not profitable to do so–memory prices are just too volatile.

Yes, the Cubs’ fans deserved Mark Grace. I agree with Frank McPherson on that. Cubs fans deserve Joe DiMaggio, for that matter–not that there’ll be another Joltin’ Joe. I guess I understand the fans putting up with the crap Cubs management unleashes on them, because I put up with the Royals’ lunkhead moves, but at least the Royals value loyalty. Then again, my clan’s motto is “fide et fortitudine” (fidelity and fortitude in Gaelic) so maybe I value loyalty more than most people do these days.


Linux for the rest of us. I find the bloatware in current Linux distributions somewhat annoying. It’s nice to have tons and tons of free software right off the bat, but how much of that software is actually useful to the majority of people? Windows users complain about lack of software for Linux, to which Linux zealots usually retort “I have 9 gigs worth of software installed on my PC and didn’t have to pay a dime for any of it, and it’s all legal!”

It’s not really the quantity of software that Windows users are complaining about; it’s type and quality. Give a Windows user a fast and stable Web browser, an instant messaging client, a mail client/PIM, a fully-featured graphical newsreader, a word processor and a spreadsheet that can cleanly handle Word and Excel files, and a fully functional personal finance program, and that’s all they need to be happy. Most of that exists for Linux, or is in development. Fine. Linux is neck-and-neck with the Mac in the race to be #2 on the desktop. Fine.

To anyone who’s read Optimizing Windows, my biggest gripe with Linux ought to be obvious. I spent a good deal of time editing Windows INF files by hand trying to figure out how to get Windows 95 to install in 17 megabytes’ worth of disk space. I presented this, that, and another tweak to minimize Windows’ RAM and CPU usage so that it could be tolerable on a low-end Pentium or 486. Linux fans rightly point to Linux’s modest requirements. They’re very proud of those 2-meg 386SXs running Linux 1.0. But they’re in an arms race to see who can create the GUI with the most eye candy (and highest CPU/memory requirements). Wanna bring a former 550-MHz powerhouse to its knees? Run the Enlightenment window manager on it.

That’s easy enough to fix. Just install IceWM and make it your default window manager, then your 120 MHz Pentium feels OK again. But what of the minimum disk space requirements? Most current distros are difficult to install in less than 500 megs. That sounds awfully Microsoftian to me. True, you can rip a lot of it out, which you can’t always do with MS. But do you know what you can safely get rid of?

That’s what makes the likes of VectorLinux and Peanut Linux attractive. I’ve got a stack of 170-meg drives. I’ve got a 1-gig drive sitting in my 486 because I couldn’t make Red Hat 6.2 small enough to fit on one of the small drives. Five hundred megs for something whose primary job is to route packets is ridiculous. Vector or Peanut will fit. These won’t take forever to download either, because Vector’s less than 70 megs and Peanut’s about 60. I know a company that thinks that’s a reasonable size for a Web browser.

I’m pretty sure I’ll be experimenting with these distros sooner rather than later. I’d love to liberate that gig drive, for instance.

US vs. UK English. I’m trying to write my new Shopper UK article in UK English because I feel bad about the number of edits my UK editors are having to make. Here’s what I can tell, so far, about the differences:

Extra letters. color=colour, favorite=favourite, program=programme, ton=tonne

Sparing use of the last letter of the alphabet. optimize=optimise

Pluralization, er, pluralisation: In US English, a group of people is refered to in the singular, unless that group is in disagreement. In explaining how old software can be better than new software, I drew a musical analogy: Just like Joy Division is better than ‘N Sync, old DOS games are better and certainly more original than many of the newer Windows games. That’s proper US English. Proper British English, from what I can tell, is “Just like Joy Division are better…” In the States, saying that implies that the members are in disagreement as to whether they’re better than ‘N Sync (the three surviving members would not disagree about that; they’d utter a number of profanities and then say, “Of course we were better than ‘N Sync!”).

But I can’t, and won’t try to, mimic the sentence structure of a British writer. I can’t pinpoint the differences, but when I read something written in English, I can almost always tell when the writer is from the British Isles. (Other English-speaking countries like South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, throw me–but I haven’t read much stuff from there. Canadian writers sound like U.S. writers but you’ll find hints of cultural differences.) You can’t escape what you are, and if I try to sound like anything but a Missourian, it’ll come across as insincere and fake. We definitely don’t want that.


I can’t let this stupid move by the Cubs go. And I thought the Royals could do some stupid things. But the Royals never let George Brett walk away. The Greatest Ever flirted with following Whitey Herzog over to the Cardinals in the early 1980s, so the Royals locked him up with a long-term contract and the promise of a front-office position after he retired. The result: Brett had some great years and some not-so-great years, but no matter how he was hitting and how his team was playing, people flocked to Royals Stadium just to see him.

Mark Grace is the closest thing baseball has to a George Brett today. He hits left handed and has a sweet swing. And he’s been playing first base for the Cubs since the Harding administration. OK, since 1988. And he was near and dear to every true Cub fan’s heart.

I remember when I first saw him play. Leon Durham had pretty much played himself out of a job as the Cubs’ first baseman. My dad and I thought Rafael Palmeiro was the Cubs’ first baseman of the future. Then I saw Mark Grace play in a spring training game. Wow! He had gold glove written all over him. If the ball was in the same time zone as him, he grabbed it. And at the plate, he reminded me a little of Brett. Solid contact hitter, good for lots of doubles and the occasional homer.

Within two years, Grace was a clubhouse leader. In the 1990s, he led the majors in hits and doubles. Without a doubt, he was the Mr. Cub of the 90s. He had offers to go elsewhere. But he wanted to be one of The Rare Ones. He wanted to be like Brooks Robinson and Carl Yastrzemski and George Brett, who spent the entirety of their long careers with one team, and spend his whole career with the Cubs. He wanted that more than a World Series ring (good thing, because the Cubs won’t be headed there any time soon). A class act. Loyalty was more important than glory.

But now there’s another young left-handed-hitting first baseman coming up, and he’ll play for less money, and Grace had an injury-plagued season, so now he’s Leon Durham. Only instead of being banished to Cincy, he’s banished to Arizona.

Getting rid of Grace makes good business sense. He’s expensive. He doesn’t hit for as much power as you’d like from a corner infielder. He may never hit .330 again–if you can’t get 40 homers from your first baseman, it’s nice to get 200 hits. The fans will miss Grace, but they’ll come out to see the Cubs regardless of who’s on the field. They could replace Mark Grace with Leon Durham and Sammy Sosa with Keith Moreland and the fans would still come. Cubs fans are like that. And management knows it.

You can replace Grace’s bat, and you can live without his glove. But you can’t replace the man. That was true of a lot of the men the Cubs have let go over the years: Bill Buckner. Andre Dawson. Rick Sutcliffe. Greg Maddux. Joe Girardi. Rafael Palmeiro. And now, Mark Grace. These are the kind of men whose presence makes the other eight guys on the field play better. The Cubs never understood that. Never will.

And that, I submit, is the reason the Cubs are perennial losers. They manage to keep the occasional outstanding individual in a Cub uniform (Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg), but for the most part they treat players as commodities, and with a few rare exceptions, field a team of forgettable players day in and day out.

The Cubs didn’t deserve Mark Grace. The real tragedy is it took Mark Grace 13 years to figure that out. Good luck in Arizona, Mark. Go get that World Series ring you were willing to deny yourself. Then head back to Wrigley Field and ask your old boss Andy MacPhail if he wants to touch it.

Thanks for all of the birthday well-wishes. Lunch was good. Dinner was good. The homemade peanut brittle from my aunt was even better. She always sends me peanut brittle for my birthday, it’s always great, and it always lasts me about three days. At about 10 p.m. I was carrying on about how I had about 45 minutes of youth left. I was born around 10:45, you see, and a long time ago I set 26 as the age when you become old. So, speak up sonny, I can’t hear you. But don’t torque me off; I’m apt to hit you with me cane.

And thanks to Al… for the greeting, for the page, and for the hits. I had a spike yesterday. Eighth wonder of the Wintel world I seriously doubt (both because I’m not that good, and because neither half of Wintel would claim me: I do a lot of Microsoft-baiting and probably even more Intel-baiting, mostly because I just can’t stand Andy Grove), but I appreciate the sentiment.