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Reviving a laptop

The drive in my work laptop gave a S.M.A.R.T. error over the weekend. I never have had much luck with Hitachi laptop drives. Micron sent a replacement drive–an IBM, thankfully–and, doubly thankfully, the Hitachi hung on until today. So I whipped out Bart’s magic network boot disk–to which I’d added the 3c556 module necessary to get this Micron Transport LT on the network–and ran my copy of Ghost from a network drive. (It won’t fit on that disk, no way, no how. Not with all the other stuff crammed onto it.)
Depending on how far gone the drive is, Ghost can cope with failing hard drives, because you can use the -FRO switch to make it work around bad clusters to the best of its ability. So I initiated Ghost with ghost -z9 -fro (the -z9 tells it to use maximum compression, since the network is the bottleneck here) and made a copy of my disk to a network drive. An hour and a half later (ugh–do I ever miss Token Ring) I had a backup. So I swapped in the IBM drive and repeated the process in reverse. An hour and a half up, an hour and a half down. The data compression wasn’t the bottleneck.

And in the end, I had a healthy laptop again. The IBM drive is quieter and seems faster. I noticed it wasn’t the nice new 5400 RPM model (it’s a 4200 rpm drive) but it’s not a slouch. And it definitely doesn’t clunk as much as the Hitachi always did. I love Hitachi’s video equipment, but their hard drives have always given me trouble. IBM’s laptop drives have always been fine for me. And I know IBM took a lot of black eyes over the GXP desktop series, but think about the things that are known to cause problems with IDE drives:

Rounded cables
PCI bus overclocked beyond 33 MHz
Heat
Cables longer than 18 inches (the length of the wire–not the cable itself)
Certain VIA chipsets in conjunction with Sound Blaster Live! sound cards

IBM 75GXP and 60GXP drives were typically bought by people seeking performance. People seeking performance often do at least one of the above, intentionally or unintentionally. During the 75GXP’s heyday, the hottest chipsets on the block were made by VIA (Intel was still embroiled in the whole Rambus fiasco), and the sound card everyone had to have was the SB Live. I suspect the GXPs were more sensitive to these factors than some other drives and they really weren’t as bad as their reputation.

While rounded cables are good for airflow, they’re bad for signal integrity. Rounded SCSI cables are common, especially in servers, and have been for years, but SCSI takes precautions with its signals–most notably, termination–that IDE doesn’t. That’s part of the reason why IDE is cheaper. So yes, though ribbon cables do look really retro, replacing them with fancy rounded cables isn’t a good idea unless you like replacing hard drives. Get Serial ATA adapters and run your drives serial if you don’t think retro is cool. I’ve been conspiring for the last couple of years to get something semi-modern into my vintage IBM AT case, so I happen to like retro.

But I digress. I hope when the merger between Hitachi’s and IBM’s storage divisions happens, we get the best aspects of both rather than the worst.

The ultimate DOS boot disk

A little over a year ago, someone issued me a challenge: Make a boot disk containing the Microsoft network client and CD-ROM drivers. The problem is that the network client, plus the DOS boot files, plus a CD-ROM driver and MSCDEX almost always takes up more than 1.44 megs.
So I zipped up as much of the junk as I could and made a boot disk that extracted the Zip file to a ramdisk and connected to the network. I had tons of space left over. So I added some niceties like doskey and a mouse driver. I still had space left over. So then I started hunting down every network driver I could find so that one disk could service the mismash of NICs we’ve bought over the years.

It worked, but adding new drivers was beyond the ability of a lot of my coworkers. And I wanted to add a Windows-style network logon and TCP/IP configuration. I started coding it and some of it worked, but eventually I ran out of time so I abandoned it.

Meanwhile, someone else was doing the same thing, and his results were a lot better.

From the guy who brought you Bart’s Way to Create Bootable CD-ROMs, there’s Bart’s Modular Boot Disk.

To get a disk like mine, all you do is make a bootable floppy on a Windows 9x box, then download Bart’s network packages, including whatever NICs you want to support. Then pop back over to the modboot page and grab all the CD-ROM stuff. I made a disk that supports all of the CD-ROM drives Bart had drivers for, plus a half-dozen or so NICs from 3Com, Intel, and SMC, along with mouse support and doskey. I still had over 100K to spare.

If you find yourself just a little bit short of space, you can use the freeware fdformat to format a disk with just 16 root-directory entries and a large cluster size. Use the commmand fdformat a: /d:16 /c:2. The space that would normally go to the bigger root directory and FAT ends up going to storage capacity instead. But don’t try to run fdformat in Windows–find a Win98 box and boot it in DOS mode.

To make life easier on yourself, you might make the disk, then image a blank and keep the image around for when you want to format a maximum-capacity 1.44-meg disk.

It was a high-stakes game, and I won.

Who’s to say where the wind will take you
Who’s to know what it is will break you
I don’t know where the wind will blow
Who’s to know when the time has come around
I don’t wanna see you cry
I know that this is not goodbye
–U2, Kite

When I last left you, I was denying it was time to say goodbye to the data on a friend’s hard drive. I’d found some information on the Internet that promised to get her data back, but I hadn’t done it yet. As often is the case with the Internet, the instructions I found online for doing the job were close. They were not quite right, but they brought me close enough that I was able to make it work.

Removing Form.A from a FAT32 drive is difficult. I was able to verify its presence using the free-for-private-use F-Prot, but F-Prot wouldn’t remove it, Usenet reports to the contrary.

One word of warning: Do as I say, not as I do. The first thing I should have done was make a bit-for-bit backup copy of the drive. I didn’t do that right away. Norton Ghost will work, though it’s not exactly a bit-for-bit copy. A better approach is to get a mini-distribution of Linux and use the standard Unix dd command to make a backup copy. (For example: dd /dev/hda1 /dev/hda2 bs=1024k) Once you have a copy of the drive, work from the copy! If you don’t know how to do all this, do not attempt recovery yourself. It’s much too easy to mess up your drive beyond any hope of recovering your data. This information is presented for informational and entertainment purposes only. I make no representation whatsoever that this will work for you. For all I know it’ll install Gator on your computer and leave the dome light on in your car and erase all your VHS tapes.

I downloaded a utility called ivinit.exe from www.invircible.com (don’t e-mail me if their Web site is down; I could only get to their site about one time out of four myself). It’s a very limited utility; I’d chained the drive off another drive for recovery purposes but ivinit will only work on the primary partition on your C drive. So I disabled the primary drive. Ivinit found it and warned me that the MBR and its mirror didn’t match. I restored the MBR from its mirror, then rebooted. I re-enabled my primary drive, let it boot, and tried to access the drive. I got the invalid media type error again. I ran FDISK, which told me I had a single FAT32 partition. That was a good sign.

So I ran MBRWORK.exe, deleted the MBR and EMBR and told it to recover my partitions. It found a single FAT32 partition. Excellent. I rebooted, tried to read drive C, and… Yeah. Invalid media type paid me another unwelcome visit.

I ran the real-mode version of Norton Disk Doctor from a recent copy of Norton Utilities. You have to be very careful with Norton Disk Doctor; never run it unless you’re positive the version you have knows about FAT32. Otherwise, you’re setting your hard drive up for a train wreck. NDD wasn’t too happy. It wanted to scavenge and rebuild the partition table, and it didn’t offer me a chance to make a backup copy. I never let a low-level utility do anything that it won’t let me undo. I aborted.

At this point I wised up. I put an Intel 10/100 network card in the PC I was using to recover the data, plugged into my network, grabbed my magic network boot disk, and connected up to the big Windows 2000 computer I use for editing video. I ran Norton Ghost and told it to make an image of the disk. To my amazement, it found a single 3.8-gig FAT32 partition and started running through filenames!

Like I said, Ghost doesn’t normally do a bit-for-bit copy; it stores enough information to recreate a valid copy of your partition. If your partition isn’t quite valid, that means you don’t get an exact copy. The upside of that is that Ghost can be a useful data recovery tool, assuming it can make sense of your partition. And fortunately, it looks like it’ll make sense of partitions that Windows itself doesn’t want to touch.

Theoretically, I could have restored the data by just making an image with Ghost, then restoring the image immediately afterward.

Norton Disk Doctor revived the partition, and it revived it more quickly than a Ghost restore would have. Then I ran into another pitfall–everything in the root directory appeared OK, and most subdirectories one level deep were fine, but anything nested gave sector not found errors. Norton Disk Doctor offered to fix that stuff, but I had a gut feeling that I shouldn’t go that route. Any time there’s the possibility of bad sectors, I want SpinRite.

As soon as I ran SpinRite, it reminded me of why I should bring it into the game as quickly as possible. It reported that the drive’s CMOS parameters appeared incorrect and it was hesitant to continue. That’s good–incorrect CMOS parameters can cause the problems I was seeing. And trying to repair the drive with messed up CMOS parameters will lead to nothing good–something that Steve Gibson is certainly aware of, and something that Symantec may not necessarily care about. In this case, the parameters were wrong because I put the drive in another system and it defaulted to a different addressing method. Whenever you’re doing data recovery and you want to move the drive, you need to be sure you get addressing straight or you’ll do a whole lot more harm than good.

After I corrected the CMOS, a simple DIR /W /S ran through the entire drive with no complaints. Norton Disk Doctor found no filesystem errors or low-level errors. SpinRite doesn’t do anything about filesystem errors, which is why I went back to NDD–use NDD when you suspect filesystem problems, but always always turn surface-scan-type stuff over to SpinRite. And there’s no harm in running SpinRite first–it’ll alert you to problems that NDD might not notice.

Along the way I learned a whole lot more than I ever wanted to know about boot-sector viruses. AntiCMOS and Form were able to coexist together nicely, and on just about any computer purchased new between 1992 and 1996, they’d just happily infect any disk you used and you’d probably never be the wiser. With the release of Windows 95B and FAT32, Form became destructive. (Why should Microsoft test new filesystems for compatibility with old viruses?) Wendy told me the problem appeared after she left an old disk in the computer before she booted it up. I suspect their old computer picked up the virus at some point, and since it wasn’t destructive under DOS and Windows 3.1, they never noticed. The computer just happily infected disks. Boot sector viruses flourished in the early 90s, as everyone needed a boot disk to play Doom or other tricky DOS games, so people traded boot disks like recipes. As often as not, those boot disks carried viruses.

When I went to put the drive back in, the dreaded “Operating system not found” paid me a visit. I hadn’t wanted to try to boot off the drive while it was in another PC for obvious reasons. So I did the standard drill. First up: fdisk /mbr. Strikeout. Second: sys c:. Strikeout. Finally, God reached down with His two-by-four and smacked me upside the head to knock some sense into me. I ran plain old fdisk and found the problem–no active partition. So I set the partition to active, and boom. The system booted up and was its old self again. It seems like I always make that mistake.

Data recovery is definitely a trade or a skill, not a science or process.

What can I say about Tuesday…?

Photography. Tom sent me links to the pictures he took on the roof of Gentry’s Landing a couple of weeks ago. He’s got a shot of downtown, the dome, and the warehouse district, flanked by I-70 on the west and the Mississippi River on the east.
I’m tired. I spent yesterday fighting Mac OS X for a couple of hours. It still feels like beta software. I installed it on a new dual-processor G4/533 with 384 MB RAM, and it took four installation attempts to get one that worked right. Two attempts just flat-out failed, and the installation said so. A third attempt appeared successful, but it felt like Windows 95 on a 16-MHz 386SX with 4 megs of RAM. We’re talking a boot time measured in minutes here. The final attempt was successful and it booted in a reasonable time frame–not as fast as Windows 2000 on similar hardware and nowhere near the 22 seconds I can make Win9x boot in, but faster, I think, than OS 9.1 would boot on the same hardware–and the software ran, but it was sluggish. All the eye candy certainly wasn’t helping. Scrolling around was really fast, but window-resizing was really clunky, and the zooming windows and the menus that literally did drop down from somewhere really got on my nerves.

All told, I’m pretty sure my dual Celeron-500 running Linux would feel faster. Well, I know it’d be faster because I’d put a minimalist GUI on it and I’d run a lot of text apps. But I suspect even if I used a hog of a user interface like Enlightenment, it would still fare reasonably well in comparison.

I will grant that the onscreen display is gorgeous. I’m not talking the eye candy and transparency effects, I’m talking the fonts. They’re all exceptionally crisp, like you’d expect on paper. Windows, even with font smoothing, can’t match it. I haven’t seen Linux with font smoothing. But Linux’s font handling up until recently was hideous.

It’s promising, but definitely not ready for prime time. There are few enough native apps for it that it probably doesn’t matter much anyway.

Admittedly, I had low expectations. About a year ago, someone said something to me about OS X, half in jest, and I muttered back, “If anyone can ruin Unix, it’s Apple.” Well, “ruin” is an awfully harsh word, because it does work, but I suspect a lot of people won’t have the patience to stick with it long enough to get it working, and they may not be willing to take the extreme measures I ultimately took, which was to completely reformat the drive to give it a totally clean slate to work from.

OS X may prove yet to be worth the wait, but anyone who thinks the long wait is over is smoking crack.

Frankly, I don’t know why they didn’t just compile NeXTStep on PowerPC, slap in a Mac OS classic emulation layer, leave the user interface alone (what they have now is an odd hybrid of the NeXT and Mac interfaces that just feels really weird, even to someone like me who’s spent a fair amount of time using both), and release it three years ago.

But there are a lot of things I don’t know.

I spent the rest of the day fighting Linux boot disks. I wanted the Linux equivalent of a DOS boot disk with Ghost on it. Creating one from scratch proved almost impossible for me, so I opted instead to modify an existing one. The disks provided at partimage.org were adequate except they lacked sfdisk for dumping and recreating partition tables. (See Friday if you don’t have the foggiest idea what I’m talking about right about now, funk soul brother.) I dumped the root filesystem to the HD by booting off the two-disk set, mounting the hard drive (mount -t ext2 /dev/hda1 /mnt) and copying each directory (cp -a [directory name] [destination]). Then I made modifications. But nothing would fit, until I discovered the -a switch. The vanilla cp command had been expanding out all the symlinks, bloating the filesystem to a wretched 10 megs. It should have been closer to 4 uncompressed, 1.4 megs compressed. Finally I got what I needed in there and copied it to a ramdisk in preparation for dumping it to a floppy. (You’ve gotta compress it first and make sure it’ll fit.) I think the command was dd if=/dev/ram0 bs=1k | gzip -v9 > [temporary file]. The size was 1.41 MB. Excellent. Dump it to floppy: dd if=[same temporary file from before] of=/dev/fd0 bs=1k

And that’s why my mind feels fried right now. Hours of keeping weird commands like that straight will do it to you. I understand the principles, but the important thing is getting the specifics right.

Building a Win95 box

Building a Windows 95 box? Why? You nuts?
Why not? You’ve got old hardware, you’ve got a ton of licenses to run an obsolete operating system… It’s a good match. Remember, a Pentium-120 was a titan of a PC in 1995. You couldn’t get anything faster. Running Windows 95 on a Pentium-120 with 24 MB RAM, 1.2 GB HD, and 8X CD-ROM in 1995 seemed like running Windows 2000 on a decked-out 1.4 GHz Athlon today. Maybe it seemed even more extreme than that; I remember selling a good number of 486DX2/66s and DX4/100s in the summer of 1995. They were low-end, yes, but they were at that $1,000 sweet spot. You’d pick up a DX2/66 for $800 and a 14″ monitor for $200, and sometimes as a weekend special we’d bundle the two together with a printer for $1,099 or something.

We had a Pentium-120 to rebuild at work, and we had its Win95 license, so it made sense to just rebuild it with the stuff it had. I know Jerry Pournelle had a really hard time building a Win95 box a few months back. I didn’t have much trouble at all, so I might as well document the pitfalls.

First of all, I used vintage hardware. That helps. Win95 was designed for 1995-era hardware. This PC probably dates from 1996 or so; it has the strange pairing of an Intel 430HX chipset and a Pentium-120. The 120 was more frequently bundled with the earlier 430FX chipset; by the time of the HX, the 133 was considered low-end, the 200 high-end, and the 166 was mainstream. The video card was a plain old Cirrus Logic-based PCI card; no issues there. AGP sometimes threw Win95 for a loop. None of that here. While DMA drivers certainly improved the 430HX, they weren’t necessary for stable performance. In other words, a 430HX-based board with a Cirrus video card works acceptably straight out of the box, with no additional drivers.

Other hardware: A Mitsumi 8X CD-ROM. I don’t remember exactly when 8X came out, but for the most part an IDE CD-ROM is an IDE CD-ROM, from a driver standpoint. A Creative Labs Sound Blaster 16. That was a very common, very well-supported sound card. A DEC 450 network card. Those DEC cards can be a real pain to get working sometimes, but Win95 surprised me and detected it straight up.

But Setup wouldn’t run initially. It took some figuring, but I solved that problem. My colleague had booted with a Win98 boot disk I made over a year ago. He did an FDISK and format to wipe the drive, but he formatted the drive FAT32. The original Win95 didn’t know about FAT32, so Setup was throwing a hissy fit when it saw it. I did another FDISK and format, switched to plain old FAT16, and Setup installed very happily.

Once I got Setup to run, it installed, and quickly at that. And with absolutely no issues. Remember, Win95’s footprint was only about 35 megs. It doesn’t take long for an 8X drive to deliver 35 megs. And the system booted quickly. I didn’t sit down and time it, but I’m used to calling a minute a reasonably fast boot time, and this thing didn’t seem slow to me at all. A little optimization would help, of course. A little logo=0 in c:msdos.sys goes a long way.

Running Win95 on newer hardware is possible, but remember, it’s been nearly four years since it was the mainstream OS. And you can have a lot of headaches trying to do it. Windows 3.1 is in the same boat–it’s downright hard to find device drivers for modern video cards. Then again, I can think of circumstances under which I’d want to run Win95. I can’t think of any compelling reason whatsoever to run Win3.1 at this point in time. (And there wasn’t any compelling reason to run it in 1994 either.)

If I had to build up a Win95 box today and could have whatever components I wanted, I’d probably look for an Asus P55T2P4, easily the best Socket 7 motherboard ever manufactured. (In 1997 when I was in the market, I opted for an Abit IT5H instead and I’m still kicking myself.) That board is most naturally paired with a Pentium-MMX/233, but with unsupported–but widely-documented online–voltage settings, you can run more recent K6-2 CPUs on it. The P55T2P4 allows an FSB of up to 83 MHz, but for stability’s sake, I’d keep it at 66 MHz, or possibly 68 MHz if the board supports it (I don’t remember anymore). You can run a K6-2/400 with a 6x multiplier at either of those settings and be very close to its rated speed. Then I’d use an ATI Xpert 98 video card. Yes, it’s a bit old, but it’s probably the best all-around PCI card that’s still reasonably easy to find. Win95 won’t recognize it without manufacturer-supplied drivers, of course, but that’s not so bad. This combination would give you surprisingly good performance, stability, and minimal difficulty of installation.

Anyway, that adventure reminded me that a Pentium-120 can still be a viable computer. Vintage software like Win95 runs well on it. Office 95 has more features than most of us use, and it’s faster and more stable than the recent incarnations. It also has fewer strings attached. IE 5.01, although recent, would run decently on a P120, as long as you left out Active Desktop. Acrobat Reader 3.0 will still read the majority of PDF files on the Web, and it’s smaller and faster-loading than more recent versions. Do a Web search; you can still find it online.

Don’t get carried away with what you install, and a P120 can certainly surprise you.

Building a dual-boot W2K/Mandrake 8 box

We descended on Steve DeLassus’ place yesterday afternoon for a hair-pulling configuration adventure. Steve introduced me to two Linux gurus he knows from work, Adam and Jamin.
Steve told me once that there’s a story with Jamin’s name, but I didn’t think to ask Jamon for his version. No surprise; we had battles to fight and eventually win.

Adam’s big story is his degree. He put in his five years and completed all of his coursework, only to find that it’s necessary to file an intent to graduate. I seem to remember that where I went to school, signing up for the required classes and then showing up served as ample intent to graduate, but maybe my school wasn’t that enlightened. So, since Adam didn’t find out until it was too late that he had to file a piece of paper before he could get that piece of paper that tells people you know something, he’s enrolled in summer school, taking zero credit hours. But he filed his piece of paper, so another more expensive piece of paper should be coming his way soon.

I gave Steve’s new FIC AZ11-based Duron PC a once-over in the BIOS. I disabled all the ROM shadowing and ROM caching, since neither Windows nor Linux make use of it, and why waste cache bandwidth–even just a little bit of it–on something you’ll never use? Then I put in some more aggressive memory timings–CAS 2, turbo, FSB+33 MHz (since this is PC133 memory on a Duron).

Then, since this is a dual-boot system, we installed Windows 2000. While Steve wasn’t looking, it asked for locale settings. I decided to be nice–I could have set it to Hebrew, Arabic, or all kinds of goofy stuff. I set it to Zimbabwe English. I didn’t specify a timezone, so for whatever reason, it defaulted to Tijuana.

Steve saw it later because Windows put a locale icon in the toolbar. He hovered over it and it said “Zimbabwe English.” He said something, with some new word I’d never heard before that starts with “f,” and it appeared to be every part of speech in the sentence. I’ll have to ask him sometime what that means.

With Windows installed and properly configured for use in English-speaking Zimbabwe, we turned to Mandrake 8. All went well until the time came to configure LILO. The defaults would have worked but they seemed wrong, so we changed them. The machine booted into Windows. We booted off the Mandrake 8 CD and chose recovery mode. We spent half an hour dinking around and not really getting anywhere. So Steve and I made a boot disk with his other Mandrake box (the mkbootdisk command is your friend). Adam was adamant that we didn’t need that. We’d fixed the textfile that needed fixing (/etc/lilo.conf) but running LILO to activate it was the problem–we couldn’t mount the drive at /. Finally Adam or Jamin stumbled on the -r switch for LILO, which fixed the problem.

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.

Building my Duron

I broke my own rule last night. Twice. You should never take down a working system to build its replacement. Get the replacement system working, then take down the system to be upgraded. If you’re cannibalizing parts from the old system, get the new one going as much as you can before you start stealing parts from the old.
Well, I never got around to ordering more cases and video cards, and I had this really fast board and CPU sitting here doing nothing while a decrepit K6-2 that’s needed reinstalling for two and a half years (another thing I never got around to) sat around taking up space. So I took down the K6-2, only to find it had PC66 SDRAM in it. I vaguely remember how that came about. So I took down my Celeron-400, which I thought had PC133 SDRAM in it. I was half right. It had a 128 MB Crucial PC100 stick and a 128 MB Crucial PC133 stick. Decisions, decisions. I put the PC66 SDRAM in the Celeron (it wasn’t happy about that–it took me 15 minutes to get those DIMMs to seat properly) and took both 128s and put them in the new PC.

I re-assembled the Celeron and hoped for the best. It powered right up and booted. It’s not as nice of a system now, with 128 megs instead of 256, but the speed doesn’t matter due to the Celeron’s 66 MHz bus.

So I tore down the K6-2, lifted out the old motherboard, dropped in the new FIC AZ-11 freshly configured with a Duron-750 and 256 MB of SDRAM set to run at 100 MHz (if I’d had two PC133 sticks I could have clocked it at 133 MHz and still set the FSB to 100 MHz–this AZ11 BIOS is very nice). I reinstalled my PCI SCSI, network, and sound cards and my STB Velocity 128 video card–yeah, it’s ancient but I love that card, and it’s still fabulous for a lot of tasks–and connected up all the front panel LEDs and switches. While I had the system open I decided to pull the CD-RW so I could put it in an external enclosure. Since I didn’t have the faceplate anymore for my PCP&C midtower, I scrounged around for something to put in that bay. A 12X NEC SCSI CD-ROM? Marginally useful. What else have I got? Hey, is that a 5.25″ 1.2MB floppy drive I spy? Why not? I haven’t had a 5.25″ drive in a production system in about seven years. And hey, I like retro. So I installed that drive.

I plugged the system into my KVM switch, crossed my fingers, applied power, and got nothing. So I ripped the system back apart and double-checked everything. It looked good to me. But wait… Why do I have two leads marked “Power Switch?” My manual for my case is long gone, so I went to PCP&C’s web site. That brown/white lead is reserved for future use. OK, ignore it. Hook everything up, still dead. So I crack out the manual, since the silkscreen on the board obviously is either not enough or wrong. Oh. The speaker and power connect one way, and the others, including power, connect perpendicular to that. How odd. I reconnected the leads, powered up, and everything sounded normal. Nice.

I connected up an external SCSI hard drive, because I didn’t want to touch any of the old drives until the system was up and running. I made a DOS boot disk with my SCSI drivers on it (since this SCSI card can’t boot off a SCSI CD), but I didn’t get too far getting a modern OS installed. The SCSI drive kept acting weird and refusing to boot.

Instead of really troubleshooting it, I opened up my drawer of 5.25″ floppies and started playing around. I found my old DOS 3.2 floppy. I went into the BIOS, swapped the floppy drives, threw in DOS 3.2, and… to my amazement, that disk still worked. My fire-breathing dragon booted into MS-DOS 3.2. So then I tried my Commodore-branded MS-DOS 3.3. That worked too. It was funny seeing Commodore copyrights all over the place…

I’ll have to see if I can get things working right later this weekend.

Roll your own router with an old PC

Freesco works. Yesterday was D-Day. I brought a copy of Freesco over to Gatermann’s, set it up, and watched it go. Well, at first it didn’t–it got the two Ethernet cards confused. So I switched the cards and it fired up. Absolutely smashing, as they’d say in Britain. I dumped it to his old 1.2-gig Quantum Bigfoot hard drive, and it boots up in about 35 seconds. When living on a hard drive, Freesco wants to dual-boot with MS-DOS. He didn’t have DOS on that drive, so Tom dug out an old Windows 95 boot disk, with which I SYSed the drive. Then I just took the file router.bat that Freesco dumped to the drive and copied it to autoexec.bat. Then I rebooted and we got a laugh.

Starting Windows 95…. Then it briefly displayed the Windows 95 splash screen. Then the splash screen went away. Loading Linux, it said. Ah, Linux comes and kicks Windows aside. We both got a chuckle.

And Tom had a great observation. “The only time I ever have to reboot Linux is when I take the system down to try a different distribution,” he said. That’s about right.

I was talking about what a great use this would be for old, no-longer-useful PCs–as long as it can run Linux, it can be a caching DNS, a router, or something else useful. That means any 386 with 8 MB of RAM is a candidate.

But don’t throw away the 286s yet. Then someone had to one-up me. Dev Teelucksingh, master of DOS utilities, sent me a link: http://www-acc.scu.edu/~jsarich/ieweb/main.htm .

What is it? A DOS-based router. System requirements: DOS 5 or higher, 286 CPU, 1 MB RAM. Astounding. So even a 286 can be useful, even in this day and age. Licensed under GPL, so it’s free. No caching DNS, but hey, on a 286 with a meg of RAM and running DOS, whaddya want? And just giving the program a quick look, a hard disk should be optional–the program is 430K zipped, so it should fit on a high-density floppy along with DOS, HIMEM.SYS, and packet drivers for the NICs. Boot it off a 5.25″ 1.2-meg drive just to see what looks you’ll get. 🙂

Come to think of it, I have a 286 with a meg of RAM around here somewhere. Part of me (the insane part, surely) wants to give it a go. The question is, can I get two NICs working in 8-bit slots, since I know that 286 only had one or two 16-bit slots and I think they’re occupied by the disk controller and video card…

Here’s Dev (his site’s definitely worth a look even if you have no interest in IP masquerade–I’ve never seen a better collection of DOS programs):

Been reading your posts regarding IP masquerading and I found two DOS solutions (just waiting to get a ISA networking card to try either of them 😉 )

IProute v1.10          http://www.mischler.com/iproute/IPRoute is PC-based router software for networks running the Internet Protocol (IP). It can act as a demand-dial router between your LAN and a PPP or SLIP link, and allow transparent access from your LAN to the Internet using a single IP address through network address translation (NAT). It can also act as a PPP server for dial-in connections, or route between LANs. Other features include routing between multiple ethernet and serial interfaces, packet filtering, RIP, and event and packet logging to a remote syslog daemon. More recent features include proxy ARP, remote management via telnet and ftp, support for RealAudio & RealVideo, a RADIUS client, and a DHCP client. Shareware. (1 hour demo available for download)

Internet Extender     http://www-acc.scu.edu/~jsarich/ieweb/main.htm

The Internet Extender is a DOS based program designed to function as an Internet Gateway Router that performs Network Address Port Translation. The program must be used in an multi-homed machine, or a machine with two network interface adapters connecting to separate networks. The two possible configurations are: 1.) Connected to the Internet through a Modem 2.) Connected to the Internet through a Network Interface Card

Freeware, (published under GNU license) so source code is also available

Dev Anand Teelucksingh
Interesting DOS programs at
http://www.opus.co.tt/dave
Trinidad and Tobago Computer Society at http://www.ttcsweb.org

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