How to ditch your landline and your phone bill but still have phones that work

Now here’s a potentially huge money-saver. I still have phone service through AT&T that rings through old-fashioned phones (you know, like the kind you see in a museum) because there’s nobody that’s going to give me a wireless plan with unlimited minutes for about 30 bucks a month.

But, still, that’s $360 a year. I’m sure there are things I’d rather do with $360 a year if I could free that up, right?

What if I were to tell you that you could buy a device that costs less than $100 (potentially as little as $38) and you could make phone calls for free using your Internet connection?
Read more

The HP 4101mfp multifunction device

I set up an HP 4101mfp printer-scanner-fax machine today. My first impressions weren’t good, but once we actually had it working, it worked as advertised.

I’m not about to buy one for home, but if I need a multifunction device in the office (or a client does), I won’t feel too bad about recommending this one. Read more

Another ordinary Monday…

Seen on a sign. God calls us to play the game, not to keep the score.
I like that.

Seen at a book sale. The Coming War with Japan. The book was written in 1992 and asserted that the conditions that pre-dated World War II exist today and that war is inevitable. Then I spotted another book: The Japanese Conspiracy. I didn’t bother picking that one up. I could have bought them for entertainment value, but I picked up a couple of books by Dave Barry and P.J. O’Rourke for that.

The idea seems ridiculous to me.

I was glad I went over to the section on war though. In addition to those, I also found A Practical Guide to the Unix System, Third Edition, by Mark G. Sobell. Had it been in the computer section where it belonged, it would have been snapped up long before I got there. It comes from a BSD perspective, but I have to work with a BSD derivative at work sometimes, so it’s good to have. At the very least, it can serve as a status book (books you keep on your shelf in your office to make it look like you know something, even if you never read them).

Speaking of humor value… I picked up a book on typography, written in 1980. Some of my classmates had a knack for making type look really good–they could literally turn a headline into art. I never got that knack. This book tries to teach it. It also talks about computerized typography. Needless to say, the couple of pages that illustrate that are just a wee bit out of date.

But I’m not worried about the key points of the book being out of date. The basic elements of good design were old news when Gutenberg built his first printing press.

Retro computing. I was inventorying my old stuff and I ended up building a computer. I have an original IBM PC/AT case, but the last of the AT motherboards don’t fit in it well. The screws line up, I’m in trouble if I need any memory, because the drive cage blocks the memory slots on a lot of boards, including my supercheap closeout Soyo Socket 370 boards I picked up a year or so ago. I used the motherboard that had been in that case for something else long ago, and it’s been sitting ever since.

In my stash, I found a Socket 7 board that fits and lets me put the memory in it. It even has 2 DIMM and 4 SIMM sockets in it. Unfortunately it has the Intel 430VX chipset in it, which didn’t cache any memory above 64 MB, limited the density of SDRAM it would recognize, and its SDRAM performance was so lousy you didn’t really see much difference between SDRAM and EDO. But if I run across a 32-meg DIMM or two it’ll fit, and a relatively slow CPU with adequate memory still makes a good Linux server, especially if you give it a decent SCSI card.

I did some investigation using the tools at www.motherboards.org, and found out the board was a Spacewalker Shuttle. So I went to www.spacewalker.com, where I found out there were only three Shuttle boards ever made with the 430VX chipset. There were pictures of each board, so I quickly figured out which one I had–a HOT-557/2 v1.32. It tops out at a Pentium 200 or a Pentium MMX 166, so I’ve got some options if I decide the AMD K5-100 in there isn’t enough horsepower. And, most importantly to me at least, it looks like a computer. A machine from a time when computers were computers, not boomboxes and fax machines and toaster ovens and television sets. A machine that looks rugged enough to survive a tumble down a flight of stairs. A hot-rodded classic. A man’s machine, ar ar ar!

Back to the grind. The weekend’s over, and it’s time to think about work. Have a wonderful week, check the news sources I cited Saturday if you want, and check back in here a few times while you’re at it, won’t you?

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.

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