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Sound card and hard drive troubleshooting

Sound card woes. Gatermann recently ran into some problems with sound cards forcing his Internet connection to drop. It had literally been six years since I’ve seen a problem like that before, but he kept running into it. Finally, it dawned on me: Try changing slots to force it to use a different interrupt. Therein was the silver bullet. The problem didn’t go away completely, but the culprit arose: the Sound Blaster 16 emulation. So I had him go into Device Manager and put the SB16 emulation on a different interrupt, and the problem went away.
It’s been forever since I’ve seen an honest-to-goodness interrupt conflict. This particular PC has every expansion slot filled with something or other, which is why he ran up against it. Keep that in mind: Just because we have PCI and plug and play these days, doesn’t mean you won’t ever see an interrupt conflict. On a well-expanded system, this ancient problem can occasionally rear its ugly head (while Microchannel required their cards to be capable of interrupt sharing; PCI only *recommends* it–so not every PCI device can share an interrupt, particularly if an ISA device has grabbed it. Alas, Microchannel fell victim to IBM’s greedy overly restrictive licensing terms and raw-dead-fish marketing, so as a result we have cheap PCs today but more headaches than we necessarily need. Speaking of raw-dead-fish marketing, I could mention that the Amiga’s Zorro bus had true plug and play and hundreds of interrupts from Day One in 1985, but nobody wants to hear that. Oops, I said it anyway.)

This problem used to happen all the time when people would put their modems on COM4 and a serial mouse on COM2 (or COM1 and 3). Since those ports by default shared interrupts with one another, you got goofy symptoms like your Internet connection dropping whenever you moved the mouse. People don’t configure their COM ports that way anymore, which is what’s made that problem so rare.

I think I finally got that G4 deployed. Wednesday it decided it didn’t want to shut down, and I had to reinstall the OS to fix it. Then on Thursday, it decided it didn’t want to recognize the mouse button anymore. I still don’t know what exactly I did to fix that–I booted off a spare MacOS 9 partition, ran a battery of disk repair tools and a defragmenter, and the problem went away. So while Mac users can snicker about interrupt problems, their machines aren’t exactly immune to weird problems either.


From: “Gialluca, Tony”

question: RE Optimizing Windows and Temp files

Hi Mr. Farquhar,

In you book on page 112 you discuss placing temp files on a ramdisk. On this page you show an example where:

Set temp=ram disk letter:\temp Set tmp=ram disk letter:\temp

Shouldn’t you also include changing

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\explorer\Volum eCaches\Temporary files\folder] to “ram disk letter:\temp” also ??

Per the description

([HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\explorer\Volu meCaches\Temporary files\description]) says: “Programs sometimes store temporary information in a TEMP folder. Before a program closes, it usually deletes this information.\r\n\r\nYou can safely delete temporary files that have not been modified in over a week.” The only potential pitfall that I can think of is if windows or programs (say during installations) need this area to remain persistant through reboots, even though the files may be of
a temporary nature…

Your thoughts would be appreciated …




To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know that registry key existed (nor did the book’s technical reviewers, evidently). That registry key, too, should be changed, yes. Thanks!

You are correct that if a program does a hard reboot (rather than just exiting to real mode and reloading Windows), you’ll lose the contents of the ramdisk and thus the temp folder. Fortunately, most programs seem to use the temp directory the way they’re supposed to–for temporary, fleeting things. Now if they’d just learn to clean up after themselves…

Of course, this also applies to my advice on creating a temp partition, on page 62.

Thanks much; this is very good information.


From: “Gary M. Berg”

Subject: Maxtor hard drives

Since you’ve been talking about WD and Maxtor hard drives…

I heard rumors just after Win2K SP1 came out that the service pack had problems with machines with Maxtor hard drives. I’ve not been able to find much of anything else on this. What have you heard?


That’s a new one to me. Maybe another reader has heard something, but it sure seems odd. I can’t imagine Microsoft didn’t test SP1 on the major drive manufactuers’ drives (Fujitsu, IBM, Maxtor, Quantum, Samsung, Seagate, and Western Digital), and with Maxtor being one of the Big Two in retail….

Once I get my current big project off my back this weekend, I’m half-tempted to try it just to see. Unless someone already has…

Upgrades, remedies and a diagnosis

(originally from 5/21/00)
Upgrade Central. I got a steal of a deal on a pair of Antec 300W power supplies, so I did the power supply shuffle this weekend. While I was at it, I also threw in bunches of memory while I had the systems open. My dual 366 runs a lot better now with 320 MB of RAM in it. Never skimp on RAM, especially on dual-CPU systems.

I can’t resist. Microsoft Remedies. Someone sent in some complaints about Outlook, viruses and scripting, which I’d love to post but it takes a lot of effort to do that right now. Suffice it to say, Gary, I think you’re right, but I don’t think Microsoft gives a rip about anything but driving competition, real or imagined, out of business using any means possible. Security and quality be damned. (Notice they’re not exactly falling all over themselves to remedy the performance problems Internet Explorer causes, even though it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to do.)

So, proposed remedies… Put Mehdi Ali and Irving Gould in charge. Who? They’re two guys who knew how to chase short-term profits without stifling innovation. You’re still asking who? Ask any Amiga fan who they are, then duck.

And it’s almost official. I’ve been diagnosed (at least, I have a preliminary diagnosis) with the dreaded carpal tunnel syndrome. I don’t know if it’s a matter of psychology, having been hit too many places with reflex hammers, or the Vitamin B6 shocking my system, but whatever it was, I was a mess Saturday.

Expect updates to be brief and less frequent than before for a while. I’ll do my best to answer my mail, but I’m still trying to devise a plan. (I do feel a bit better today, at least I’m using my shift key, unlike yesterday.) And I wrote this much with the two-finger method, rather than touch-typing–I’m a very fast touch-typist when healthy.

Putting the squeeze play on Linux

Want the smallest, fastest OS possible? I stumbled across several Linux assembly language projects today. There’s asmutils, which attempts to give full functionality of various common Linux tools but in smaller, faster assembly language packages, and there’s Tiny ELF, a page of assembly language utilities that are somewhat useful, but the intent appears to be more to just see how small of a program he can write.
If you want to see just how far the insanity can go, check out this, which is about the craziest thing I’ve seen in a long time. I remember that mentality. It was the mentality of an Atari 2600 programmer. As one who replaced most of the standard Amiga commands with smaller, faster versions, I can appreciate these two projects. Maybe I’m just an old-timer or a sicko, but for some reason I get a kick out of seeing that my text editor uses a scant 68K of memory (with a large file open). The scary thing is, the command window that allows you to run all these tiny programs will itself occupy a meg or more. Sigh. Progress.

LoveLetter is just a symptom of worse things to come

The virus parade continues. I saw some really disturbing speculation on BetaNews today. Of course there’s the news of 10 variants on VBS.LoveLetter. Worse yet, there’s speculation of what kind of havoc a trojan horse jumping on ICQ could cause. I don’t know if ICQ is scriptable, but what if someone implemented a program that contacts the ICQ network (possibly by borrowing code from one of the open-source Linux ICQ clones), then sends itself to all of your ICQ contacts? A lot of ICQ users indiscriminately accept and run any file sent to them. Just another conduit. Hopefully it’s beyond most virus writers. (Most virus writers are on my programming level. If I download a real program, you know, like an open-source Linux utility, I’m pretty clueless about four lines in. I can follow virus code, because it’s simple.)
Microsoft really needs to start giving a rip about security. I know it’s fashionable to bash MS, but I was bashing them back in 1990 and never really stopped, so hear me out. There’s just far too much exploitable scripting capability in contemporary MS products. Worse yet, these languages don’t abort on errors anymore, which creates a breeding ground for new viruses. When two viruses merge, the code still executes. The gibberish that in days of old would have stopped the program today gets passed over and the program keeps running. I can see popping up a dialog box that says “Run-time error,” with two buttons (continue and abort). I longed for that years ago when I still aspired to be a programmer. But no, that’s not dummy-proof enough.

Well, guess what? Now our computers are so dummy-proof that they’re time bombs. Thanks Bill. Now we still can’t get any work done. Used to be because it was too hard to figure out. Now it’s because our computers keep getting their system files wiped out.

I saw an Amiga 1200 on eBay for about $75 the other day. Time to throw these MS-infected PCs out the door of a low-flying plane over the Redmond campus, (yes, I know there’s a perfectly good possibility they’ll hit someone) and replace them with real computers that are reliable and not afraid of asking the user a question.

But I know good and well I’ll probably just abandon Windows as a primary OS and just run it in VMWare sessions. At least then, when Windows decides to take a dump all over itself (or let some virus do it), the mess is confined. Not that I have a virus problem because I open things in Notepad before doing anything with them, but we’ve already been through that.

Another observation. This one’s shorter, I promise. Are we so love-starved that we’ll open some attachment called “love letter” without even looking at it? That all of our better judgment gets suspended until it’s too late? (I ask as U2’s “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses,” which might as well be about my last serious relationship, comes on over my.mp3.com–very funny.)

Hey, there’s a song in there somewhere. “Love by Outlook.” Hmm. Time to go give the synth a workout.

Oh yeah. That question I asked. I don’t have a good answer for it. An evangelist in Columbia thought he had the ultimate answer. Didn’t work. So I ended up moving to St. Louis to get a new start. New old familiar territory, got a new job, signed a book deal, and life was good again. I doubt that’ll work for everyone else. But it’s a lot better than an e-mail attachment.

Macintosh buying advice

What’s up with someone asking me for Mac advice? Yeah, Dan Bowman is in the process of selling his soul to (or at least buying a computer from) some egotist in Cupertino.

From: “Bowman, Dan”
Subject: Macs
To: Dave Farquhar
Dead serious request:

We keep getting hammered by graphic artists and printers; the Mac is ubiquitous in this arena locally. I’ve proposed we purchase a Mac for the GM to use (he’s a passable artist and knows what he wants and is not afraid to do it his way).

What configuration (for that matter, what machine) should I look to price this. We’re bidding another contract and the cost of the machine would likely be saved twice over by the artist fees and the GM’s time (time he could spend just doing it).

Any bets on programs?

Networking issues?

Thanks. Not my idea of fun; but in this case the right tool for the job if he can make it work.


I can’t recommend packages, they’ve gotta be what he’s comfortable working with. Rent some time at Kinko’s if need be to determine that. I definitely suggest avoiding Adobe PageMaker, because they’re abandoning the thing. Let me take back what I just said. If you can avoid using Adobe products, do it, because the company’s policies… Umm, just take every bad thing I’ve ever said about Microsoft, multiply it by about 10, and you’ve got Adobe. You may not be able to avoid Photoshop, but avoid the rest of it if you can. Macromedia and Quark, between the two of them, make just about everything you need.

If he wants to use a jillion fonts, you need a font management program, because the self-styled King of Desktop Publishing can’t juggle more than 254 fonts, I believe. I’m not certain on the number. Extensis Suitcase will do the job.

Get AlSoft Disk Warrior, Micromat Tech Tool Pro, and Symantec Norton Utilities. Once a month (or whenever you have problems), run Apple’s Disk First Aid (comes with the system), then Disk Warrior, Tech Tool Pro, and Norton Disk Doctor, in that order. Fix all problems. They’ll find a bunch. Also get Font Agent, from Insider Software, and run it once a month. It’ll want to delete any bitmapped fonts over 12 point. Don’t do that, but let it do everything else it wants. That helps a ton.

You’ll spend $500 on utilities software, but if you want your bases covered, you need them. Get them, use them, and you won’t have problems. Neglect to get them, and there’ll be no end to your problems, unless he never uses it.

Hardware: Get a 400-MHz G4, 256 MB RAM, IDE disk (poorly threaded, cooperative multitasking OSs don’t know what to do with SCSI). Frequently you can get a better price by getting the smallest disk possible, then buying a Maxtor drive at your local reseller. I know they were charging $150 a month ago to upgrade a 10-gig disk to a 20-gig disk, and you can buy a 20-gig disk for $150. Video, sound, etc aren’t options. If 450 is the slowest you can get, get that. MacOS doesn’t do a good enough job of keeping the CPU busy to warrant the extra bucks for a higher-end CPU. You’ll want the memory because you have to assign each app’s memory usage (it’s not dynamic like Windows), and it’s not a bad idea to assign 64 MB to a killer app. I also hear that G4s are totally unstable with less than 256 megs. I can’t confirm that. We’ve got G4s with more and we’ve got G4s with less, but I haven’t seen both in the hands of a power user yet.

Networking: NT’s Services for Macintosh are worthless. Don’t use NT for a print server for a Mac (it’ll ruin the prints), and don’t use it as a file server if you can help it (it’ll crash all the time). Linux isn’t much better, but it’s better. (It’ll just crash some of the time, but at least you can restart the daemons without rebooting.) I don’t know if MacOS 9 can talk to printers through TCP/IP or if they still have to use AppleTalk. AppleTalk is an ugly, nasty, very chatty protocol–it makes ugly, nasty NetBEUI look beautiful–but it’s what you get. Turn on AppleTalk on one of your network printers and print to it that way. One Mac and one printer won’t kill a small network, though a big enough network of Macs can keep a 10-megabit network totally overwhelmed with worthless chatter. Killer DTP apps don’t like their PostScript to be reinterpreted, and that’s one of the things NT Server does to mung up the jobs. So that’s the only workaround.

Multitasking: Don’t do it. When I use a Mac like an NT box, keeping several apps and several documents open at once, it’ll crash once a day, almost guaranteed. Don’t push your luck. It’s an Amiga wannabe, not a real Amiga. (Boy, I hope I’ve got my asbestos underwear handy.)