Why the government (and others) still deal in floppy disks

The revelation that the Federal Government still relies on floppy disks for some of its business is making it the butt of some jokes this week. And although that will serve as confirmation for some people that the government is completely backward, there are actually multiple good explanations for it.

From a security standpoint, using floppy disks isn’t a bad idea at all. Read more

Why I like MS Office better than OpenOffice

I saw a story on Digg talking about why MS Office is so much better than OpenOffice. The argument was pretty shallow–pretty much everything it said was either untrue or could be simplified to "because it is" or "because it costs money."

I’ve used both. I have both installed on a couple of machines. I generally use MS Office. Here’s why.For virtually everything I do, OpenOffice is fine. There’s no feature in Office 2000 that I actually use that isn’t in recent builds of OpenOffice. None. I wrote a book in Office 97, and the only thing that would keep me from writing the same book again in OpenOffice might be the template I used. If OpenOffice could interpret my old publisher’s template and save it in a format my editor’s copy of Word could understand, I’d be OK.

And honestly, I think during the process of writing that book, I pushed my system a lot harder than most people do. Word 97 would crash hard on me once or twice a month, and I don’t think anyone else has ever done that.

I’ve never crashed Word 2000. I don’t know if it’s because Word 2000 is more stable or if it’s because Windows 2000 is a lot more stable than Windows 98 was. I never ran Office 97 on Windows 2000.

My complaint with OpenOffice is speed. Word launches in five seconds or less, even if I don’t have its quick-launch application in memory. Usually less. OpenOffice components load slowly, sometimes taking 30 seconds to load. If I wanted to wait 30 seconds for my word processor to load, I’d use my Commodore 128.

And while I can’t quantify it, once Word is loaded, it’s faster and more responsive. OpenOffice Writer seems to hesitate just a fraction of a second longer when I pull down a menu or hit a hotkey. There’s not a lot of difference, but it drives me nuts.

I’m spoiled, I know. I used to use a word processor called TransWrite on my Amiga. There were a lot of things TransWrite wouldn’t do, but it was lightning fast. Even on a 7 MHz Amiga, it did everything instantly.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but what I want is something that gives me all the features of, say, Word 95, and runs as fast as TransWrite did. Given that 1 GHz is considered a slow computer nowadays, I don’t think that’s too much to ask. Neither OpenOffice nor Microsoft totally deliver, but Microsoft’s product comes a lot closer.

I absolutely, positively do not buy the argument that MS Office is more capable. Microsoft’s eternal struggle has been figuring out how to get people to upgrade their old versions of Office, because frankly when I started working in desktop support in August 1995, the existing Windows 3.1 versions of Word and Excel did everything that the people I supported wanted, even then. When I became a full-time IT worker in March 1997, one of my first jobs was rolling out Office 97. Its draw was that it was 32-bit and crashed less. It had some new features but aside from the real-time spelling and grammar checking, nobody really talked about them. Some people loved the real-time checks, and other people fell all over themselves turning them off.

Two years later, Office 2000 came out. A hotshot in the accounting department told me how much better it was, but when we really talked about the new features, his opinion was mostly due to the excitement of being the first to have the new version. Outlook was considerably better in Office 2000 than it had been in previous versions, but outside of that the only new feature I ever heard anyone mention was that the font menu displayed font names in the actual font. Access was better, but not a lot of people used it.

I’ve used Office XP and 2003. Outlook was incrementally better in both versions. But aside from Word’s booklet printing capabilities, I’ve never found anything in the newer versions of Office that I miss when I come home and use Office 2000 on my now-ancient computers.

And whenever I shift gears from Office 2000 over into OpenOffice, a few obscure features might be in a different place in the menu structure but I’ve always found what I needed.

But if for some reason I had to ditch MS Office tomorrow, I wouldn’t switch to OpenOffice. I’d load the Windows versions of AbiWord and Gnumeric.

In some regards, AbiWord and Gnumeric are closer to the 1992 versions of Word and Excel when it comes to capabilities. But they’re fast. And I’ve always been willing to sacrifice a few capabilities for a program that can operate as quickly as I can think. My only complaint about those two programs is that I never figured out how to make .doc and .xls the default file format for them.

How to connect a Commodore 64 to a television

How to connect a Commodore 64 to a television

It is less than obvious how to connect a Commodore 64 to a television, especially a modern television, and it’s even more difficult if your C-64 didn’t come with the cables or the manual.

There are, as it turns out, several ways to do it. The C-64 and 128 have an RCA jack on the back that matches the RCA jacks on most televisions, whether LCD or CRT. Confusingly, this isn’t the key. If you just plug a cable from the RCA jack into the RCA input on a TV, you won’t get a display.

Read more

SPAM from Macromedia regarding Flash; Neatgear NICs; Crash course

MAILBAG:
From: “bsprowl”
Subject: Spam ?? from Macromedia regarding Flash

I keep getting offers to down load Macromedia’s Flash. These aren’t e-mail type spam; a window pops up and asks if you want to download it.

I have find it very annoying to get these regularly. I have searched on it and find it will cost $399.00 plus tax and shipping for this web authoring tool after the trail period runs out.

Well duh, that’s expensive and I don’t want to write using it; I use Arachnophia (sp?) which is freeware, saving over $400 for the small bit of web development that I do.

There are also some security issues that I don’t want to deal with (although how a glorified text editor can cause security problems seems insane, the FAQs lead me to believe that it can happen.)

But why do I keep getting offers to download it from so many sites. The latest is weather.com, who you would think would not have ads of this type. And the ad pops up several times as I open the radar map and every time I refresh the map it pops up two or three more times.

I have tried to see if this spam is somehow tied to my computer and have used some of Steve Gibson’s tools ( grc.com ) and updated my virus definitions, etc., to eliminate or reduce it if it is hidden or my system. I found nothing.

Any suggestions?

Bob
~~~~~
I know exactly what’s going on. (My site isn’t bugging you about that, is it? If it is, Vinny and Guido will be knocking on a couple of people’s doors because off the top of my head I can’t think of anything I hate more than Flash and my site’s not *supposed* to be using it….) There’s nothing wrong with your computer. You’re getting that question because so many sites use Flash; and most sites, if they detect you don’t have the free Flash plug-in, offer to let you download it. You’d be downloading the free unlimited-use plug-in rather than some trial version of the $399 package.

But Flash animations are annoying (and mostly used by really blinky and obnoxious ads) so I don’t like installing it. I also don’t like the stupid dialog boxes (or sites that install it without asking permission, as some do). When a site offers to install Flash, I add it to the Restricted Sites zone (Tools, Internet Options, Security, then click Restricted Sites, then click Sites, then add, say, www.weather.com to the list). That shuts ’em up, unless they also use ActiveX, in which case IE will pop up a dialog box saying the page may not render properly. But at least they’ll quit bugging you about Flash.
~~~~~~~~~~
From: “Bob”
Subject: Re[2]: Spam ?? from Macromedia regarding Flash

Hello Dave,

Oh. Now I feel stupid for bothering you.

I never noticed Flash or Macromedia before this. I don’t really want to install it but I would like the weather maps to update automatically and also to show the past several hours.

I guess I’ll do a backup to CDW and then install it. I don’t have a lot on my system, the C: drive only has about 590 MB so it will fit on a single CD. Then if it’s a problem I can just go back to the original system.

I really am wasting that drive but then none of mine are full. I don’t download music, that’s why I have my stereo; I don’t even have a speaker plugged into my computer.

I don’t play DVDs; that’s what the VCR is for (although I haven’t used it more than once since I brought it; I don’t even know were the nearest video rental place is located.)

A year or two ago I tried to install the latest release of the Asteroids game which I though might be fun but after downloading half a dozen files from several sites (I need something called Direct X) it won’t run and neither would anything else. I tried it on several of my systems from an old 486 with DOS 6 and Window 3.11 to a system with a PII 450 and Windows 2K. I’ve never gotten a game more complex that Mahjongg to run on anything besides my old Atari, so it must be me.

I spend a lot of time reading and I like paperbacks so I don’t download books either. I do have a database of all of the books I’ve read in the last five plus years. And that is linked to my Palm so I no longer buy a book I have already read.

I find your sight to be most useful concerning computer technology and read it everyday. While most of the other daynoter’s are interesting, they are not nearly as useful. I really don’t care what they ate, etc.

Thanks again,

Bob
~~~~~
No problem, I’m sure you aren’t the first to have that question, and I’m sure others are asking, “How do I keep this #&%$ website from telling me to download Flash?” If not today, someday someone will want the answer to that question.

Most recent games do require DirectX, which you can download from here. If the DirectX version is too old, games will complain. The safest way to get a game running, if you’re willing to invest the time, is to build up a system, install Windows clean, then install the current version of DirectX, then install the game. That may be more trouble than you’re willing to go to.

I chuckled as I read the rest of your mail. About two years ago, a box of stuff showed up in my boss’s cube. Nobody knows where it came from. There was some ancient computer stuff, and there was some REALLY ancient computer stuff. One of them was a CompuServe manual, and I could tell from the logo and the hairstyles and tie widths that this thing was from 1984 at the very latest. I flipped through it and chuckled at the words that suggested 1200 baud was something new, and when my boss walked in, I held it up and said, “Now this is a relic from a time when computers were computers, and not washing machines and stereos and VCRs and TVs and fax machines and toasters.”

“You sound bitter.”

“No, just practical.”

I remember my Amiga’s simple elegance. Yes, it invented multimedia, but it knew what it was, and that was a computer, and it did a good job of being one. And I miss that.

And thanks for your compliments of the site. I try to be useful, and entertaining, and compelling. I don’t always succeed, but enough people come back that I guess I succeed often enough. I know Pournelle’s a better writer than I am, and both he and Thompson have a much deeper depth of knowledge than I do (they’ve also had more time to accumulate it). So I do the best I can, and try to make it as easy as possible here for people to find the stuff they do like.

Thanks for writing.
~~~~~~~~~~
From: “Steve DeLassus”
Subject: Neatgear NICs

OK, what’s the difference betwen a Netgear FA310 and an FA311? At the price mwave is hawking them, I am ready to pick up 3…
~~~~~
The FA310 uses the classic DEC Tulip chipset near and dear to all Linux
distros’ hearts. The FA311 uses a NatSemi chipset that only very recent
distros know what to do with. The FA311 should be fine with Windows boxes,
and it’s supposed to be fine with Mandrake 8.
~~~~~~~~~~
From: “Gordon Pullar”
Subject: Re Crash Course

Hi, I have just read your article in this months “Computer shopper” I am having trouble re-formatting my hard drive (which previously had WIN98SE on it and worked well!) I used FDISK( Got from WIN98 then WIN98SE.) to create a Primary DOS partition,using the whole disk,6.4 Gig. After that I reformated it, it now freezes at writing the FAT table,that’s if I get that far,4 times out of 5 using a boot disk,(I have tried several from differnet PC’s) It gets as far as “verifying pool data” and then freezes.I have checked the HDD drive out with Seagates own diagnostic software and all is OK.(Funny it always boots OK with the seagate software “Seatools”) Changed the IDE cable to the hard drive.I have flashed the BIOS with the latest version.

Is there anything else I could be missing??

Giga-byte GA 5AX motherboard
AMD K6 2 500 Mhz CPU
256 Mb pc100 Ram
Seagate 6.4 Gig ST36451A
HDD Generic video card

Regards

Gordon Pullar
~~~~~
First thing I’d do would be to try to get it to boot off a floppy, then type FDISK /MBR. Both of the problems you’re describing sound like a corrupted MBR, and I don’t think partitioning the drive will zero that out for you. If that doesn’t work, try zeroing out the entire MBR with the MBRwork utility (www.terabyteunlimited.com).

Failing that, I’d try using SeaTools to either low-level format or zero out the drive. Usually after doing that, a finicky drive will work just fine.

04/08/2001

The Kansas City press is already talking about how much they miss Johnny Damon since the Royals got off to their 0-4 start. ‘Scuse me? Am I the only one who remembers how Johnny Damon normally hits under .200 the first month of the season? And am I the only one who checked and saw that he’s hitting .133 for Oakland at the moment?

Johnny Damon is a non-factor until June. Meanwhile, his trade got the Royals a proven closer and a throw-in backup catcher that it turned out they need. And they needed Roberto Hernandez yesterday when they got their first win.

How far we’ve come… While I was hunting down tax paperwork yesterday (found it!), I ran across a stash of ancient computer magazines. For grins, I pulled out the May 1992 issue of Compute, which celebrated the release of Windows 3.1. I would have received this magazine nine years ago this month.

Some tidbits I liked:

“Windows 3.0… entered a hostile world. OS/2 loomed on the horizon like a dragon ready to devour us, and MS-DOS, stuck in version 4.0, had lost its momentum. It looked as if Digital Research…was the only company trying to make DOS better.” –Clifton Karnes, pg 4

That’s what happens when there’s no strong competition. I don’t get the OS/2 and dragon metaphor though. What, people didn’t want a computer that worked right? I didn’t get it at the time. I had an Amiga, which at the time offered OS/2 features and a good software library.

“Some people even started talking about Unix.” Ibid.

Some things never change.

“The masses are happy, and nobody talks about Unix much anymore.” Ibid.

That certainly changed.

“You can now buy a 200 MB drive for just $500.” –Mark Minasi, pg 58

I’ve got some 200-meg hard drives that I’d absolutely love to get $500 for. You’ve got my e-mail address. And while we’re at it, would you like some snake oil? That now-laughable line was from a Mark Minasi column talked about strategies for getting drives larger than 512 MB working. Strangely, that problem still rears its ugly head more often than it should, and its descendant problem, getting a drive bigger than 8 gigs working, is even more common.

“A 286-based notebook is a very capable machine; with a decent-size hard disk and a portable mouse, you could even run Windows applications on one (except for those requiring enhanced mode performance such as Excel).” –Peter Scisco, pg 72

Don’t let any of the end users I support read that line. That’s funny. Later in the same article, Scisco discusses the problem of battery life, a struggle we still live with.

“The last dozen modems I’ve installed here at Compute have been compact models. It’s almost like the manufacturers are trying to get better mileage by leaving out parts and making the cards smaller. These modems don’t reject line noise very well.” –Richard Leinecker, pg. 106

Now there’s a problem that only got worse with time.

An ad from Computer Direct on page 53 offered a 16 MHz 386SX with a meg of RAM and dual floppy drives (no hard drive) for $399. Your $399 gets you a lot more these days, but that was an incredible deal at the time. A complete system with a 14-inch VGA monitor and 40-meg HD ran $939. The same vendor offered an external CD-ROM drive (everything was a 1X in these days) for $399.

An ad on page 63 proclaimed the availability of the epic game Civilization, for “IBM-PC/Tandy/Compatibles.” Yes, these were the days when you could still buy a PC at Radio Shack and expect to be taken seriously.

Weird week. On Tuesday, cold season gave way to allergy season, and it happened over the course of a couple of hours. Winter’s attempted comeback fell flat on its face, and spring arrived, bringing with it temperatures in the 70s, and the two things St. Louis is known for more than anything else: humidity and pollen.

In recent years pollen hasn’t bothered me much, but whatever’s in the air this time around bothered me enough to think the cold I shook last week had relapsed on me. But then I figured out that when I stayed in my air-conditioned office, I had no problems. At home, where I haven’t turned on the AC yet, I do. So I finally broke down and got some antihistamines, which never used to make me drowsy. They do this year. Go figure.

Last week I still had the heater going because it was cool enough at night that my apartment would drop to 60 degrees by morning if I didn’t. Normally I refuse to turn on my AC before mid-May out of principle, so turning on the AC less than a week after I was running the heat is ridiculous.

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