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DOS games under Windows; Today’s post; Disk I/O tweaking

Overheard: [I’d] rather spend a lot of money for a new top-notch and super-light mountain bike, dive gear or quality clothing than on another computer system. The performance of my PC is just fine for the work I do and the games I happen to play once in a blue moon. My PC is over a year old! Shocking!

–Thomas Pabst, of Tom’s Hardware Guide, in his Duron 850 review released Monday

I think that’s another argument for optimizing your PC right there. If Tom Pabst, of all people, can keep a PC for more than a year, then so should everyone else.

Let’s talk about cheap PCs. In college I lived next door to a marketing guy. In 1994, a couple of years before PCs broke the $1,000 barrier for good, I was thinking about $700 PCs. At that time, 386DX motherboards retrofitted with Cyrix 486DLC processors were dirt cheap, and I figured with 4 MB of RAM and a sub-300 MB hard disk, it would be possible to build a PC for that, and I figured it would sell on price alone.

My marketing buddy agreed. Then we did nothing with the idea. But I still think about cheap PCs.

There’s an article over at The Register today talking about a new motherboard from PC Chips that sells for about $80, based on the SiS 730S chipset. An unnamed vendor states that he can buy these PC Chips boards, slap a low-end Duron on them, put it in a case with the smallest hard drive available, and voila, you’ve got a $300 PC. He’s right. For $80, you get audio, video, modem, and LAN. All you need is a CPU ($60), memory (under $50), hard drive ($85), case ($35), and a keyboard and mouse ($15). It won’t be a high-powered system, but it’s miles ahead of anything we had three years ago and we weren’t complaining.

Now, I don’t trust PC Chips motherboards one bit, but I expect a lot of people will follow this dealer’s plan. This will lead to sales and market share for AMD, but it might come at the expense of reputation. You and I can assume people will blame the inevitable problems they’ll have with these systems on the dealer, or on the motherboard, but historically that’s never happened. People equate the CPU with the computer, so problems tend to fall on AMD or Cyrix, right or wrong. But AMD is hedging its bets, rightly focussing on the business market, where it got its big break last week: Micron will be offering Athlons in their Client Pro line of business PCs.

And speaking of Cyrix, they’ve revised the Cyrix III chip yet again, adding L2 cache. Performance is still lackluster, leading people to predict Cyrix’s demise, but I’m not so sure of that. If VIA can sell Cyrix chips at a significantly lower price than Intel or AMD are willing to charge and still make a profit, there’s room. That $300 PC can become a $250 PC if VIA prices its CPUs at $35 and dealers cut available memory.

Inexpensive PCs done right do sell. Commodore and Atari proved that. Their demise came when they reached the point where they no longer could (or would) sell a useful computer at a significantly lower price than everyone else. The Amiga was tremendously useful, but it was at a me-too price. Here was Commodore, the budget computer maker, selling a computer for twice as much as Packard Bell. Hence its demise. Atari’s price was closer to Packard Bell, but the software compatibility wasn’t there. Packard Bell’s death was inevitable once HP and Compaq started eroding their price territory. Packard Bell had a terrible reputation, but they sold until they lost their price advantage. People aren’t going to settle for a Kia if they can get a Honda for about the same price.


DOS games under Windows; Today’s post; Disk I/O tweaking

Name-brand memory vs. generic

The difference between brand-name RAM and commodity RAM. I’ve been seeing a lot of questions along the lines of, “Do I really have to buy name-brand memory when I can find memory for half the price on PriceWatch?” on message boards lately. I talked about memory some in Memory-buying secrets, but I didn’t really go into the difference between generic/commodity/broker memory and the expensive stuff.

There are three factors that go into the quality of a memory module: the quality of the chips, the quality of the printed circuit board (PCB), and manufacturing.

When memory chips are made, they are tested. A memory chip that runs at or below spec gets classified as an A-grade chip. Chips with minor defects are classified as C-grade chips and shouldn’t be used in PCs.

Memory manufacturers will also charge varying amounts based on how much testing they do for the chips. Top-tier chips are guaranteed to have a failure rate of .1% or less–we’re talking one in a thousand chips failing here.

The least expensive chips aren’t tested at all.

The only way to ensure you’re getting these best-of-the-best chips is to buy name-brand memory. The best way to ensure you’re getting C-grade or untested chips is to buy the cheapest module you can find.

Inexpensive PCBs use a four-layer design, with signal layers on the outside, and power and ground sandwiched inside. This is inexpensive to produce and easy to repair. Unfortunately, this design leaves you open to signal noise, which can corrupt the data stored in the chip, and lead to unpleasant things like BSODs.

A better approach is to put the signal layers inside, and put power and ground on the outside, protecting them. Better still is a six-layer design, which adds two more ground layers for even better isolation. The higher the memory speed, the more important this extra isolation becomes.

You can sometimes tell the difference between a 4-layer and a 6-layer board by looking at it under a strong light. By turning it slowly, you can isolate discrete layers with the naked eye. However, it’s impossible to tell the difference between power, ground, and signal layers with the naked eye.

Name-brand vendors use high-quality PCBs. Some even proudly proclaim it when they use 6-layer boards. Again, the best way to get a poorly designed 4-layer board is to buy the cheapest memory you can find.

The third factor is assembly. When soldering chips to PCBs, things can go wrong. Trust me. I’m very good at demonstrating. While no one puts together memory modules by hand (I hope), my plumber-like soldering skills make me appreciate good equipment. Quality solder joints are bright and shiny, and they’re applied very quickly. Intermittent solder joints cause problems, and they’re maddening.

Kingston puts every module through rigorous testing. Other name-brand manufacturers test as well. When you don’t even know who made your module, it’s impossible to know whether it’s had the proper testing. Putting it in a PC and watching the BIOS check is not proper testing. Memory has to be very far gone to fail that test.

Miscellaneous computer memory.

The module on the right has Samsung chips on it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was made by Samsung. I’d be fine with putting the HP module directly below it in a PC, though. The same goes for the Kingston module at the top of the image.

Frequently vendors will advertise Micron memory or NEC memory. A Micron or NEC stamp on the chips doesn’t necessarily mean they manufactured the module! Be sure to find out who assembled the module–they usually stamp the PCB, or they put a sticker on the module itself. If you find a so-called Micron module on Pricewatch for half the price that Crucial is asking (Crucial is a division of Micron), chances are it’s a no-name module that just happens to have Micron chips on it.

So, does it really make a difference?

As an IT professional by day, I work on a large network–roughly 700 PCs. I’ll conservatively estimate that farm of PCs has 1,000 memory modules collectively. We buy name-brand memory (Crucial, Kingston, Viking or Simple) exclusively. We buy PCs from Micron, so they have Crucial modules in them. Macintoshes generally come with Crucial or IBM modules.

A typical memory module has 8 chips on it, and it only takes one bad chip to make the whole module bad. I’ve seen two bad memory modules cross my desk–so we’re talking two bad chips out of a batch of 8,000. So if you’re buying a single module for a home PC, your chances of getting a lemon are pretty slim if you get a good name brand.

For my own use, I buy name-brand memory modules. Usually this means Crucial; I got a great deal over the summer on some PNY memory so I bought a couple of sticks. I use high-quality memory, I don’t overclock, and I generally don’t run experimental software. I almost never get a BSOD or an illegal operation error, even when running Windows 95 or 98. I reboot my Windows 9x boxes about once a month on average, and half the time that’s because I installed or uninstalled something and it requires me to reboot. To give you an idea how I use PCs, at the moment I have seven applications running, with 11 windows open between them, and two TSRs running. That’s my idea of moderate use.

I’d rather have 64 megs of Crucial memory than a gig of the cheap stuff. Hopefully now you see why.


~Mail follows today’s post~

It’s my birthday today. Birthdays cease being a big deal at some point; maybe after age 21 (though the big deal about my 21st wasn’t my age; I had a program for my C class due at midnight–all I remember is it involved linked lists, I hate linked lists, and the only good thing you could say about my program was it did compile–and I had copy editing and Irish history finals the next day). I’m going out tonight; last night I ate out and went to a concert, so I guess I’m treating myself right in spite of this not being a big deal.

I realized at one point a few weeks ago that I’d accomplished everything I’d set out to do by age 25, though not always in the way or quantity I’d hoped. That’s a nice realization to come to. Hopefully I’ll have similarly nice things to say about my second quarter-century.

I spent yesterday continuing my dual-boot experiments. For some reason, all of my motherboards want to think my >8.4-gig drives are half-gig jobs. I don’t get it. They’re all reasonably new; but even my year-old Abit BP6 is doing it. Normally not a problem, but some utilities software yells “out of bounds!” when it sees it. Using a UDMA-66 controller solves the problem (the BP6 has an HP366 controller built in, and I have Promise Ultra-66 I keep around), but that alerts me to another problem: XOSL doesn’t want to work with either controller for some reason. I e-mailed the author about that; I know I’m not the only one who uses these things because a lot of people buy the line that they need a UDMA-66 or UDMA-100 controller if they buy such a hard drive. I’m hoping he’s got a workaround of some sort.

I’m hoping I can find a solution before deadline; otherwise the 98/Me dual-boot article will have problems. I can give my editor a different article–there’s certainly a lot about Windows optimization I’ve left unsaid in the seven pages I’ve written so far–but seeing as he specifically asked me to investigate this, I’ll feel bad if I don’t deliver something, or if I deliver something with significant strings attached. Strings are good for guitars, not computers.

And a good question. Someone asked me today about something that I interpreted to be about the build-to-order strategy of PCs, a strategy which Dell and Gateway have ridden to such great success. I held them up as examples that work, and Apple as an example that right now isn’t. They have 11 weeks’ worth of unsold inventory built up at the moment and expect to bleed cash again this quarter. I guess the lesson there is that having huge databases to analyze can help, and computerization of the ordering process can help you buy exactly what you need right when you need it, but computers are no better than humans at predicting the future. I.T. won’t solve all of a business’ problems.

I have no idea if that’s what she was looking for in an answer, but I think that bit about IT not solving all problems is something not everyone gets yet. Computers solve a lot of problems. They also raise expectations greatly, and they (and we) don’t always live up to them.


From: “John W. Braue, III” <braue@nospam.ratsnest.win.net>
Subject: For the Greater Good
In your daynotes for 6 December 2000, you quote Chris Miller as saying:  “Lawbreaking is relative. Your greatest presidents, Lincoln and Roosevelt, bent the rules for the greater good[…]”.

Didn’t Hitler and Stalin bend (and, indeed smash all to pieces) rules for the greater good?  What they proclaimed to be the greater good, of course, but it’s difficult to hold a reasoned discussion when the tanks are bearing down on one…

If the U.S. is a democracy, then let us acknowledge , as Mark Bridgers wrote, that the law is the Will of the People (with, granted, a certain time lag), and that opposing it by demonstrations and civil disobedience, even for a “greater good”, is itself Undemocratic and, _ipso facto_, evil (how many people would be willing, in this day and age. to deny the truth of _vox populi, vox Dei_?).  If it is a republic, then let us acknowledge that the law is indeed the law, and then breaking it and getting away with it does not justify either that action or future repetitions of it.  And, if the U.S. neither, let us can all of this election foolishness, and get down to the serious business of coups, revolutions, and civil wars to determine which _caudillo_, machine pistol in hand, is going to enforce his vision of the “greater good”.

John W. Braue, III


Well, I didn’t want to think of it in exactly those terms, but yes, they did.

The best time to make a decision is usually not when we’re caught up in the moment, as that leads to haste. I find myself agreeing with what you say and not really having anything to add.


From: Gary Mugford
Subject: My script and Bless the Sound Card


“The guys over at Junkbusters have a different solution. Make ’em sweat. They’ve even got a script with questions to ask. Visit them if you’re sick of the bother.
“Print it out, then keep it by the phone. And when you pick up the phone and get that tell-tale delay, followed by an unfamiliar voice who mispronounces your name, pounce. “Is this a telemarketing call?” (That question weeds out the other annoying phone calls, like Chrysler and MCI Worldcom calling up because of billing problems–sorry, you’ve gotta deal with those on your own.) If the answer is yes, then keep going. “Could you tell me your full name please? And a phone number, area code first?” And they’ve got 12 other questions, where those came from.”

For years, I’ve had the dickens to try and talk family members OUT of talking with telemarketers. My mom used to get involved in the talk, apologize profusely for declining and then be mad upon hanging up. I gave her a copy of my script to use:

“I’m sorry, I must interrupt you. We do not accept over-the-phone solicitation. Please feel free to mail us literature. Thank you very kindly for calling, good-bye.” THEN HANG UP. She wouldn’t use it.

This works pretty well, except for the ones that DID manage to get mom to send them something. Long after the parental units were retired and moved down to the Lake, I would still get phone calls at their number. I finally went to the trouble to record the little speechlet and put the file on the toolbar to press whenever I got ONE of THOSE phone calls. Now, it’s answer the phone, realize what’s happening, double-click and hold the phone DIRECTLY over my speaker and then hang-up.



That approach works too. The Junkbusters solution is legally binding in the States, though I’m sure Canadian laws are different so up north your approach is probably at least as good.

Of course, if I were to take your approach and I happened to be listening to some doom-and-gloom Sisters of Mercy or Joy Division when the call happened, that’d make some nice background–serenade them with some music that’s definitely an acquired taste while they get my schpiel.

Another suggestion I’ve heard was to put them on hold for five minutes, then come back on and sing showtunes very badly until they hang up.

From: “Michal Kaznowski” <michalkaznowski@nospam.yahoo.com>

Subject: Re[2]: DPMI error while zipping windows

Hello Dave,

Monday, December 04, 2000, 3:06:44 PM, you wrote:

DF> Try downloading this. Put the executable files from this archive into the same directory as your Info-Zip executables. Let me know ASAP if that doesn’t fix it. (This is as painful as some Linux programs’ installations!)

Done.  It will probably work when I have mastered the syntax.  At the moment after running the csdpmi executables I get

ZIP I/O error no such file or directory

with your command line. I have also tried making a windows.zip file for zip to write to.

(MSDOS mode cd to C:zip run cwsdpmi etc then your command line)

DF> Thanks for your encouraging words on Optimizing Windows.

You have a nice line in understatement.  My brother, who is computer tech support for the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, tells me it is the best reference book he has ever used!

DF>  Unfortunately, O’Reilly cancelled the Linux book, so for now I’m just writing Windows optimization articles for Computer Shopper UK and taking a few months off from book writing while I decide what to do next.

There is an air of Linux taking off here in the UK and just recently {I have been looking for some time) two magazines have appeared catering for Linux use.

Linux Format (Future Publishing) www.linuxformat.co.uk

and Linux Magazine www.linux-magazine.co.uk

as well as the coverage in PCPlus also Future Publishing.

Maybe a series of articles in one or other could be the backbone of your Linux book on the back of the terrific reviews your Optimizing Windows had.

All the best,

Michal Kaznowski

(PS My kids thought the arch was terrific this summer – but I felt awful queasy up there).


What command line are you using? I seem to recall there was a typesetting error on one of the Zip commands in the book, though I can’t remember which one at this point.

I’m very much enjoying working with Computer Shopper UK, which I’ve hopefully expressed to the right people. I think they’ve done an outstanding job on my “Optimise Your PC” series, and I still sound American, even after translating my spellings to the British form. I’m trying to remember it so they’ll have to make fewer changes with the next one.

I’m not sure when I was last up in the Arch–it must have been 10 years ago. The slight sway in the wind always made me think the thing was about to topple over, though it’s survived minor earthquakes without damage so that’s ridiculous. I also remember it being pretty cramped.


More on the election. This seems to be the topic that just won’t die. As Natalie Merchant would say, “Hey, give ’em what they want.” I’ll talk politics if people want me to talk politics. I’m just not used to people wanting a 25-year-old’s opinion on anything but computers and maybe music. Hopefully this sequel is better than most sequels coming out of Hollywood. I gave them a head start with a dumb title.

So, the dialogue with my British editor continues. Chris first:

I take your point on a lot of the things that are going unreported, and I realise that a lot of my problems and fears are ideological and nothing to do with democratic irregularities. We’ll have to agree to disgree. However, I find a couple of things hard to deal with.

DF: But I think my greatest lament is there was a time when the two major presidential candidates and parties trusted one another enough to politely step aside and transfer power. They did not truly believe that the other party, or at least one politician, could destroy the country in 2, 4, or 6 years (whatever their term might be).

Surely the whole point of politics is that you are supposed to think that your opponents are wrong and not just “trust” them and concede power to them at the earliest opportunity. Not only is morally dubious, it is arguably undemocratic – surely you are letting down the people who voted for you (especially if they are in the majority!). If you concede when you think you have won, you might as well not have run in the first place.

DF: History has proven that. We have plenty of infamous presidents who were caught breaking the law or doing (or trying to do) things of questionable legality under the Constitution: Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Warren Harding, Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton… None of them destroyed the country. Some of them changed it very dramatically. But Harding may have been the most corrupt of the bunch (at least his administration was), and no one’s ever heard of him today.

Lawbreaking is relative. Your greatest presidents, Lincoln and Roosevelt, bent the rules for the greater good, unlike the corrupt administration of Harding (an ineffectual, incompetent moron who should never have been President – sound familar?).
DF: Bush did win the larger number of states, and a much larger geographic area. Gore’s support is very much concentrated along each coast and mostly in metropolitan areas.

This is utterly irrelevant. Wow, Bush won the whole of the West from North Dakota to Arizona. Democracy is rule by the people, not by land mass.

DF: There’s enough question with the absentee ballots to make it really doubtful who truly won the popular vote.

But you have to accept the official figures surely. Although these gave Florida to Bush – hold on, I’m not undermining my own argument – surely the members of the electoral college ought to follow the democratic decision of the people and switch their votes, which I believe they have the right to do.

My main concern, though, is still the suitability of Bush, about whom I read ANOTHER damning article this weekend, which said that he was an utter failure in business (as well as a drunk) until 1994 – when he used tax money to make the Texas Rangers a success. (Admittedly I read the left-wing press, or what passes for it in Britain.) I understand people’s concerns about the ‘dynastic’ Gore in a sense, but it shouldn’t be an obstacle if you are competent and deserving. And Bush’s father had some success in politics too, I believe.

My interest might seem over-keen as I don’t even live in your country, but it’s undoubtedly a fascinating episode in US history, and in the end it will probably affect all of us. The election of Bush might actually mean we move closer to Europe, so something positive might come out of it…

Yes, the point of politics is to do what you believe is the right thing, and chances are your opponent’s opinion will differ. Gore conceding now is hardly “concession at the earliest possible moment.” It usually happens on election night.

I think where we differ is whether Gore has reason to believe he won. Bush won Florida. He won the recount. He won the hand recount. He’s winning the court cases. Gore speaks of “thousands of uncounted ballots,” but those thousands of ballots aren’t uncounted. They do not register a vote for president. I don’t know if Gore believes he won, or if he believes he can win on a technicality. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know the difference. What he is accomplishing is making the United States into more and more of a laughingstock, and in doing that, he’s not doing himself, his party, or his country any favors (favours).

The story nobody’s talking about with the popular vote is the absentee ballots in other states. Those results aren’t all certified. Nor have I seen a count yet with 100% of precincts reporting. If the popular vote mattered, Bush could do the same thing in other states that Gore has done in Florida. He has chosen not to do so. The figures now are not yet official, but I do concede that the official figures could look much like these do.

The electoral college can indeed change their votes if they want to. In 1988, one of Michael Dukakis’ electors voted for Lloyd Bentsen, his running mate. It’s not terribly uncommon for one of the Republican electors to vote for the Libertarian candidate. One year (I wish I could remember when it was), one of the Democratic electors cast his vote for Harry Truman. Truman was dead. The elector said, “Yeah, but even dead, Truman’s better than either of these clowns!” (Sounds like today.) But generally the closer the race, the less likely the electors are to vote differently.

This is rarely a problem. The electoral college was intended to give smaller states a little more power. The United States isn’t government by land mass, as you say, but it is government by a combination of population and land mass. There’ll be tremendous pressure for change. I’m torn on whether we should. I’m pretty sure that we won’t. The smaller states won’t want to give up the power, so there won’t be enough votes to ratify the necessary constitutional amendment.

As for comparisons to Harding, he sounds like two of the candidates we ran. And I’m not talking Nader and Buchanan. For all of Bush’s inadequacies, Gore fares no better. He may be worse. Gore couldn’t finish law school or divinity school (and the hard part of both of those is getting in in the first place–I know because I’ve looked into both myself).

I went out for a drink Monday night with a couple of Democrats, both very politically active. One has a brother who ran for a state office this year and aspires to run herself one day. The other worked on a couple of campaigns. Of course I asked what they thought of where the election stood. Both said that we’d be much better off if Gore conceded, and that we’d be better off with Bush as president-elect than with the current situation. When I see that Gore has lost the support of these two, I can’t help but conclude he’s doing the wrong thing.

I’ve updated my portal, and it seems to work consistently now. Sorry for the broken link. I put this up mostly for me, but you’re of course welcome to use it. You can get there by clicking Links over there on the left, if you’re interested in where and how I get information.

Communication. I see JHR doesn’t like Weblogs. I don’t like everything about them myself, but I moved here out of necessity. Keeping my site up the old way was just getting too difficult, and I was out of space. Here was a nice, elegant solution–someone offering me space and a no-strings-attached search engine, plus the ability to edit either HTML or WYSIWYG from a browser, no matter where I go. And offering ways to promote it, to boot. All without charging me a cent.

It was just too attractive. I don’t like that it requires login for discussion groups. Part of me doesn’t like the discussions taking place on their own pages. It makes it easier to avoid them if reader comments don’t interest you, but it makes it harder to read them–and chances are, if you’re reading, reader comments do interest you. I did notice that an active discussion is a great way to rack up page reads. But that may be a price too high to pay.

I could code a Daynoting/Weblogging solution myself, using PHP and MySQL on a Unixish box, that would do what I need, and only what I need. But there’s no way I could have done it in the time frame necessary. And I don’t know if my health would have held up. I prefer to spend my time and keystrokes doing content development, rather than software development, and Manila works pretty darn nicely.

I don’t mean to seem impersonal. The e-mail link is there, and I don’t mind if you use it. You don’t have to be logged in to read anything here, and you of course don’t have to be logged in to click the mail link. I don’t always respond as quickly as I would like, and it takes time for Di or me to post the mail–often longer than I would like. But this isn’t a commercial operation, so it doesn’t bother me so much. And questions regarding something I wrote that people paid money for–be it a book or a magazine article–generally do get answers within a day, even if they aren’t posted that day. I do try to maintain that level of service at least.

I’m sorry that I may have alienated one of my most loyal and longest-running readers. Seeing as the alternative was probably closing up shop and concentrating on just books and/or magazine articles (and sacrificing quality and promotion ability by becoming a hermit), I didn’t see that I had any choice. I was hoping that Dave-with-strings-attached would be better than no Dave at all. Judging from the increasing traffic, I may have been right.


~Mail follows today’s post~

Optimizing Windows is half price at Amazon.com. I questioned whether that might mean we’re nearing the end of the line, but that seems not to be the case. The paperback edition of Robert Lutz’s business book about the transformation of Chrysler in the late 1980s, Guts, is also half-price. I know that book’s not going out of print yet. So Amazon must be running some kind of holiday promotion on paperbacks.

What’s Optimizing Windows all about? My premise is that no PC built in the last three years or so is truly obsolete. You’ve got a pile of resources there, and Windows probably isn’t using them wisely. I argue that you need to make your computer work smarter, before you make it work harder, and I show you how. (Contrary to what one person asked me, it’s not a book about bird feeders.)

For $12.47, you can definitely squeeze another year out of that old clunker (or add some more zip to your new hot rod). This is the book I needed but couldn’t find when I was faced with the challenge of managing a fleet of three-year-old PCs, well past obsolesence, but with no funds to replace them. The three-year-old PCs of today are much better than they were in 1997.

So if you’ve been waiting to pick up Optimizing Windows, this is a good time to do it.

That’s enough attempt at marketing for one day. Well, wait, one more thing. Here’s a review by popular Canadian syndicated columnist Sandy McMurray.

Presidential questions. Chris Miller, the production editor at Computer Shopper UK, wrote in with some questions that really made me sit down and think about the election. I think this bears repeating and I have little else to say, so here goes.

Incidentally… isn’t it worth campaigning for electoral justice when (a) it’s looking like the candidate with more votes will lose, (b) there’s the distinct whiff of corruption in Jeb’s Florida, and (c) the man you say should win is a murderer of innocent men and the mentally disabled?

Just a thought, I’m sure they know what they’re doing

To which I responded:

I’m sure we’re giving you plenty of laughs across the Big Pond with our election. My reaction to your questions…
a. This isn’t the first time this has happened. It doesn’t happen often–the other time was in 1888, when Grover Cleveland lost to Benjamin Harrison despite winning the popular vote. The United States is a republic, not a true democracy. George W. Bush did win the larger number of states, and a much larger geographic area. Al Gore’s support is very much concentrated along each coast and mostly in metropolitan areas. There’s no question that Bush could have won the popular vote. But politicians care about electoral votes, rather than the popular vote, and adjust their game plan accordingly. (Both candidates garnered far more votes than Bill Clinton ever did.)
b. There are questionable acts in Florida from both sides. Statisticians have questioned the likelihood of Gore gaining the number of votes he has. It’s very easy to steal a close election, and both parties have done it before in the past. This is the first time a presidential election has been this closely contested, however. There’ve been opportunities in the past–Gerald Ford in 1976 and Richard Nixon in 1960 are the most notable recent examples. For various reasons, they didn’t contest. Republicans filling out missing information on requests for absentee ballots (not, as widely reported, on the ballots themselves–that didn’t happen) is questionable, but even Gore himself said every vote should be counted. (I think he really means “every vote for me should be counted,” but that’s not what he said, and no one ever put Al Gore in charge of this election. We’re a republic, not a dictatorship.)
But the alleged “mob” Gore speaks of was about 30 well-dressed people whose lone demand was that the press be let in to observe recounting procedures. If everything going on behind those doors was free and clear, why were they afraid to let the press in? Why did they feel the need to try to paint this group of protesters as a mob?
Meanwhile, there was a case, not widely reported, in Washington of a Gore supporter punching a 13-year-old boy in the stomach for carrying an anti-Gore sign. No one in the group of Gore supporters pointed out the perpetrator to police.
c. The death penalty is one of the few protections citizens have against cruel and unusual crimes. Not all states have it. Bush is more of a death penalty hawk than some governors, but the citizens of Texas were the ones who put that law on the books. Bush is simply the final appeal for criminals who have been tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death. He’s not the jury, he’s not the executioner, nor is he the judge who does the sentencing.
But I think my greatest lament is there was a time when the two major presidential candidates and parties trusted one another enough to politely step aside and transfer power. They did not truly believe that the other party, or at least one politician, could destroy the country in 2, 4, or 6 years (be they a representative, president, or senator). History has proven that. We have plenty of infamous presidents who were caught breaking the law or doing (or trying to do) things of questionable legality under the Constitution: Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses Grant, Warren Harding, Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton… None of them destroyed the country. Some of them changed it very dramatically. But Harding may have been the most corrupt of the bunch (at least his administration was), and no one’s ever heard of him today.
The president has more power than the Queen, certainly, but the president is a figurehead. Without Congressional support, they can’t do much of anything. The overwhelming majority of US citizens know that, and would rather see this election resolved quickly than to see the fight go on. Gore’s support is eroding by the day, if not by the hour.
I believe Gore is mostly interested in being president, and gives indications he seems to believe the presidency is his birthright. The best thing for him to do would have been to go home, then run again in four years. He got more votes this year than Bill Clinton did either time he ran (as did Bush). Usually, a losing presidential candidate’s career is over, but not always. Richard Nixon ran again in 1968 after losing a close (but not this close) race in 1960, and won. Grover Cleveland won the presidency in 1884, lost his 1888 re-election bid (but won the popular vote–a parallel Gore should have noticed), then won four years later when he ran again. Gore probably stood a better chance of defeating Bush in 2004 than any other Democrat would, with the possible exception of Dick Gephardt, who won’t run anyway until he gets his chance to be Speaker of the House. The US economy isn’t likely to sustain its current levels because our booming economy is largely due to people spending more than they make and racking up debt and that has to slow down, and it won’t be Bush’s fault, but he’ll take the fall, so the same thing that happened to his dad could very easily happen to him. Gore should have cut his losses and gone home, especially once this election reached the point where there was no legal precedent to overturn it.
These are my thoughts, based on the year and a half or so I spent as a part-time political reporter, in addition to what I’ve picked up from friends who are political activists (both conservative and liberal), and from my knowledge of US history (a subject on which most USers are woefully deficient). I’m certainly more conservative than Gore, and that colors my opinion, but eight years of Clinton have proven to me that my history teachers were right–even given eight years in office, no president is likely to destory this country. There is no historical precedence for it. Now, if we are now on a slippery slope after a century of mostly questionable presidents, maybe one will be able to in the near future. I know Bush won’t destroy us and I’m pretty sure Gore couldn’t either, at least not with a Republican-controlled or evenly divided Congress.
Discussions have been posted. Click the skull below, or click here.
From: “Tom Brill” <tbrill@nospam.orofino-id.com>
Subject: good modems

Love your column. Ordered your book. Last Friday you mentioned that Zoom had a quality modem. Do you remember the model? Is it true that all external modems are non Win-modems?
Thanks, Tom

Thanks much!
The Zoom 2920 was the internal PCI controller-based modem I was referring to. I’ve had great luck with Lucent-based modems and Zoom is one of the few remaining reputable modem manufacturers out there.
Zoom has a nice configurator at http://www.zoom.com/modemsna.html where you can find a modem to meet your needs. To avoid getting a Winmodem, specify Unix or Linux compatibility, even if you intend to use it with Windows, and look for the words “controller based”–most modem makers will tout that as a feature these days and throw in buzzwords like “performance” and “enhanced” and “speed.”
US Robotics has a chart at http://www.usrobotics.com/products/home/compare-home.asp that serves a similar purpose. The consumer-oriented US Robotics Performance Pro modem (3CP5610A) also looks good. Not sure if USR is still developing and using their own chipsets or if they’ve gone to Lucent and Rockwell chipsets as a cost-saving measure.
I know of no external Winmodems, but they’re not a technical impossibility. I doubt we’ll ever see serial (RS-232) Winmodems, but USB Winmodems would be less of a surprise. I know of none, and it kind of defeats the purpose, but the words “no external modems are Winmodems” make me nervous. If you want to be really safe now and in the future, look for DOS and Linux compatibility even if you’re buying an external.
Thanks again.
From: Al Hedstrom
Subject: The Optimizing Book

Dave –
Yes, Amazon has it on sale, but they make up for it on their shipping.  I did a comparison for final cost with shipping and tax and BookPool is still cheaper (by 30 cents).
Just thought you’d like to know.
BTW, I think your notes today were excellent.  I’ve followed your column for a few years now, but your comments on American politics were right on the money. 
Al Hedstrom
Figures. I hate it when companies lower their prices but then jack their shipping rates up to compensate. Especially when it ruins my marketing schpiel. In my day, I’ll tell you, people were honest and didn’t do things like–oh. Wait a minute. I’m 25. This is my day. Were people ever honest?
I guess the workaround is to order $100 worth of stuff so you can get the free shipping. Or order from Bookpool.
And thanks for the compliments on my soapboxing, both here and on your site. In response to your comments there, back when I was writing for newspapers, you know what editors did when I tried to write like that? They’d sprinkle their agenda into it, so I looked like a left-wing nut by the time the thing was finished. Of course, it was my name on it, not theirs. So I had to turn into a right-wing nut in the hopes that they’d miss a couple of right-wing nuggets and we’d have a somewhat balanced perspective. So I started writing about technology, in hopes that it’d all sail over the editors’ heads and they’d leave it alone. They found ways to mess that up too. So I said screw it, I’ll get a job fixing computers instead because at least it pays better.
And that’s why I don’t stop talking about Shopper UK. An editor’s job is to make sure the reporter/writer did his/her job and that the story doesn’t break any laws. But there aren’t many of those out there.
From: “Bruce Edwards” <Bruce@nospam.BruceEdwards.com>
Subject: The Election

Hi Dave:
Enjoyed reading your journal today and appreciate your political view point. Another item some folks seem to forget (and I have not read the Texas statutes to verify this, but this is what has been reported) is that the governor of Texas can not stay an execution permanently or pardon someone condemned to die.  What he can do is give them a 30 day reprieve.  That, of course, does not change the valid point that the execution of those guilty of terrible crimes should  be done in the most solemn manner.
On a slightly different but related subject – if you find the time, I’d really appreciate your critique of my online journal and your comments on any of the topics discussed if they interest you.  I’ve been mostly thinking about the election lately and that really shows in the last four weeks or so but there are other topics addressed.
Well, I hope you have a great weekend.  I look forward to your continued journal updates.
Bruce W. Edwards www.BruceEdwards.com/journal
Thanks. I’ll try to head your direction. I’m not the most well-traveled Daynoter due to my infamous wrists, but I’ll see what I can do. Not sure when I’ll fire off something like Saturday’s or Friday’s again (I
thought Friday’s late update was the better piece, which shows what I know), but I try to make it worth everyone’s while to come around.
Thanks again.

The joy of teaching

The joy of teaching. Remember that Pentium-75 that was limping along under Windows NT’s heavy yoke? She didn’t complain to me about it (probably because she knew I did a lot to try to make it usable), but she did complain to some other people. One of the other IT guys did some lobbying. And when I said that a Mac would be an improvement over that thing, it got some people’s attention. (I’m not exactly known as a Mac zealot at work. Some call me exactly the opposite.) So she got another machine.
Well, as it turns out, she’s taking a class titled Management of Information Systems. She called me up yesterday to ask me a few questions relating to the class. Sure, says I. She asked about a mainframe’s place in a Webcentric world, which really made me think. I’m not of the mainframe generation, and I left the computer science program at the University of Missouri because the only thing they were interested in cranking out at the time were IBM System 370 administrators who knew VM/CMS and JCL. Gag me. I’d rather use and fix Macs. But retrofitting certainly makes more sense than outright replacement in many cases.

Then she asked about NCs. I laughed, because my now-defunct Linux book was to have a chapter about NCs in it (and how to roll your own). “Why didn’t they catch on?” she asked. Two reasons, I said. Poor marketing, for one. Larry Ellison assumes that everyone hates Microsoft as much as he does, so he releases this overpriced box and says little about it other than “Not Microsoft.” The second reason, of course, is versatility. People like the versatility of their PCs. NCs have none.

Then she asked a sharp question. “Isn’t this the same thing we do with Reflection?” (Reflection is a very high-priced VTxx terminal emulator from WRQ, Inc. that we use to connect to a cluster of VMS boxes.) Ah, she gets it! Yes, only NCs pull Windows and Windows applications (or another GUI and GUI applications) instead of text-based programs.

“This stuff doesn’t even seem real,” she said at one point. “And here you are, talking right off the top of your head about it.” But at the end of the conversation, she seemed to get it.

And that’s what’s cool about writing books or maintaining a Web site. Lighting up the darkness. Making the unfamiliar make sense. Or at least a little more sense.

My phone was ringing off the hook today. I made a comment about my popularity rising. One of my office-mates suggested I run for president. Well, I said, I couldn’t do any worse of a job of carrying Florida… But I won’t be of legal age until 2012.

I guess that’s the last thing I have to look forward to. At 16 you can drive. At 17 you can get into R-rated movies. At 18 you can vote. At 21 you can drink. At 25, your insurance rates go down. And at 35, you can run for president.


I remembered seeing an article a while back concerning this person’s issue:


It is an optimization guide for the K6-2+ (also K6-III+, but not
explicitly stated) processors, and it includes a board compatibility guide.

According to the guide, the FIC VA-503+ will only support the new
processors with a beta bios (doesn’t mention specific versions) and revision 1.2 of the board.

I’m CC’ing a copy of this to Curtis.


Dustin D. Cook, A+

I didn’t get this message, except when Curtis replied to me. I’ll have to investigate.
Thanks much for the tip.

Doesn’t anybody else feel impelled to mention that a 50MHz (for in this case >12.5%) speed gain is completely valueless? As you surely know, Dave, in ordinary use people don’t usually notice any speed change that’s much finer than 2x. I’d take a 12%-faster CPU and pop it into my system if 1) somebody gave it to me for nothing, and 2) it was a no-brainer plop-in install. Otherwise, there are better uses for $60. Ya think?

Peter A. Moore
ITS Engineer
Precision IT, a division of Precision Design Systems

in reference to:
My understanding was he wanted to get that CPU because he was using his 400 MHz CPU in another system.

Yes, you are entirely right, a 50 MHz gain generally isn’t worth it. You could make an argument for when it’s a 50 MHz gain accompanied by something else, say, an upgrade from a K6-2/400 to a K6-III/450, in which case you’d get a larger gain, maybe 25-35 percent, due to on-chip cache. But with CPU speed being a fairly small factor in overall system performance, that 35% increase definitely won’t work miracles.

When upgrading a system, I generally attack system RAM and the hard drive first. It’s amazing what a difference dropping in a 7200-rpm hard drive makes. I recently made a P200 boot Win95 in 15 seconds by replacing the drive, dropping in another 64 megs of RAM, then doing a fresh Windows installation and tweaking msdos.sys. Very nice.

Good observation. Thanks.

Mac mice, PC data recovery

A two-button Mac mouse!? Frank McPherson asked what I would think of the multibutton/scroll wheel support in Mac OS X. Third-party multibutton mice have been supported via extensions for several years, but not officially from Ye Olde Apple. So what do I think? About stinkin’ time!

I use 3-button mice on my Windows boxes. The middle button double-clicks. Cuts down on clicks. I like it. On Unix, where the middle button brings up menus, I’d prefer a fourth button for double-clicking. Scroll wheels I don’t care about. The page up/down keys have performed that function just fine for 20 years. But some people like them; no harm done.

Data recovery. One of my users had a disk yesterday that wouldn’t read. Scandisk wouldn’t fix it. Norton Utilities 2000 wouldn’t fix it. I called in Norton Utilities 8. Its disktool.exe includes an option to revive a disk, essentially by doing a low-level format in place (presumably it reads the data, formats the cylinder, then writes the data back). That did the trick wonderfully. Run Disktool, then run NDD, then copy the contents to a fresh disk immediately.

So, if you ever run across an old DOS version of the Norton Utilities (version 7 or 8 certainly; earlier versions may be useful too), keep them! It’s something you’ll maybe need once a year. But when you need them, you need them badly. (Or someone you support does, since those in the know never rely on floppies for long-term data storage.) Recent versions of Norton Utilities for Win32 don’t include all of the old command-line utilities.

Hey, who was the genius who decided it was a good idea to cut, copy and paste files from the desktop? One of the nicest people in the world slipped up today copying a file. She hit cut instead of copy, then when she went to paste the file to the destination, she got an error message. Bye-bye file. Cut/copy-paste works fine for small files, but this was a 30-meg PowerPoint presentation. My colleague who supports her department couldn’t get the file back. I ride in on my white horse, Norton Utilities 4.0 for Windows in hand, and run Unerase off the CD. I get the file back, or so it appears. The undeleted copy won’t open. On a hunch, I hit paste. Another copy comes up. PowerPoint chokes on it too.

I tried everything. I ran PC Magazine’s Unfrag on it, which sometimes fixes problematic Office documents. No dice. I downloaded a PowerPoint recovery program. The document crashed the program. Thanks guys. Robyn never did you any harm. Now she’s out a presentation. Not that Microsoft cares, seeing as they already have the money.

I walked away wondering what would have happened if Amiga had won…

And there’s more to life than computers. There’s songwriting. After services tonight, the music director, John Scheusner, walks up and points at me. “Don’t go anywhere.” His girlfriend, Jennifer, in earshot, asks what we’re plotting. “I’m gonna play Dave the song that he wrote. You’re more than welcome to join us.”

Actually, it’s the song John and I wrote. I wrote some lyrics. John rearranged them a little (the way I wrote it, the song was too fast–imagine that, something too fast from someone used to writing punk rock) and wrote music.

I wrote the song hearing it sung like The Cars, (along the lines of “Magic,” if you’re familiar with their work) but what John wrote and played sounded more like Joe Jackson. Jazzy. I thought it was great. Jennfier thought it was really great.

Then John tells me they’re playing it Sunday. They’re what!? That will be WEIRD. And after the service will be weird too, seeing as everybody knows me and nobody’s ever seen me take a lick of interest in worship music before.

I like it now, but the lyrics are nothing special, so I don’t know if I’ll like it in six months. We’ll see. Some people will think it’s the greatest thing there ever was, just because two people they know wrote it. Others will call it a crappy worship song, but hopefully they’ll give us a little credit: At least we’re producing our own crappy worship songs instead of playing someone else’s.

Then John turns to me on the way out. “Hey, you’re a writer. How do we go about copyrighting this thing?” Besides writing “Copyright 2000 by John Scheusner and Dave Farquhar” on every copy, there’s this.  That’s what the Web is for, friends.


Note: I post this letter without comment, since it’s a response to a letter I wrote. My stuff is in italics. I’m not sure I totally agree with all of it, but it certainly made me think a lot and I can’t fault the logic.

From: John Klos
Subject: Re: Your letter on Jerry Pournelle’s site

Hello, Dave,

I found both your writeup and this letter interesting. Especially interesting is both your reaction and Jerry’s reaction to my initial letter, which had little to do with my server.To restate my feelings, I was disturbed about Jerry’s column because it sounded so damned unscientific, and I felt that he had a responsibility to do better.
His conclusion sounded like something a salesperson would say, and in fact did sound like things I have heard from salespeople and self-promoted, wannabe geeks. I’ve heard all sorts of tales from people like this, such as the fact that computers get slower with age because the ram wears out…

Mentioning my Amiga was simply meant to point out that not only was I talking about something that bothered me, but I am running systems that “conventional wisdom” would say are underpowered. However, based upon what both you and Jerry have replied, I suppose I should’ve explained more about my Amiga.

I have about 50 users on erika (named after a dear friend). At any one moment, there are anywhere from half a dozen to a dozen people logged on. Now, I don’t claim to know what a Microsoft Terminal Server is, nor what it does, but it sounds something like an ’80s way of Microsoft subverting telnet.

My users actually telnet (technically, they all use ssh; telnet is off), they actually do tons of work is a shell, actually use pine for email and links (a lynx successor) for browsing. I have a number of developers who do most of their development work in any of a number of languages on erika (Perl, C, C++, PHP, Python, even Fortran!).

Most of my users can be separated into two groups: geeks and novices. Novices usually want simple email or want to host their domain with a minimum of fuss; most of them actually welcome the simplicity, speed, and consistency of pine as compared to slow and buggy webmail. Who has used webmail and never typed a long letter only to have an error destroy the entire thing?

The geeks are why sixgirls.org got started. We all
had a need for a place
to call home, as we all have experienced the nomadic life of being a geek
on the Internet with no server of our own. We drifted from ISP to ISP
looking for a place where our Unix was nice, where our sysadmins listened,
and where corporate interests weren’t going to yank stuff out from underneath us at any moment. Over the years, many ISPs have stopped
offering shell access and generally have gotten too big for the comfort of

If Jerry were replying to this now, I could see him saying that shells are
old school and that erika is perhaps not much more than a home for  orphans and die-hard Unix fans. I used to think so, too, but the more novice users I add, the more convinced I am that people who have had no shell experience at all prefer the ease, speed, and consistency of the shell
over a web browser type interface. They’re amazed at the speed. They’re
surprised over the ability to instantly interact with others using talk and ytalk.

The point is that this is neither a stopgap nor a dead end; this IS the
future. I read your message to Jerry and it got me thinking a lot. An awful
lot. First on the wisdom of using something other than what Intel calls a server, then on the wisdom of using something other than a Wintel box as a server. I probably wouldn’t shout it from the mountaintops if I were doing it, but I’ve done it myself. As an Amiga veteran (I once published an article in Amazing Computing), I smiled when I saw what you were doing with your A4000. And some people no doubt are very interested in that. I wrote some about that on my Weblogs site (address below if you’re interested).

I am a Unix Systems Administrator, and I’ve set up lots of servers. I made
my decision to run everything on my Amiga based upon several
One, x86 hardware is low quality. I stress test all of the servers I
build, and most x86 hardware is flawed in one way or another. Even if
those flaws are so insignificant that they never affect the running of a
server, I cannot help but wonder why my stress testing code will run just
fine on one computer for months and will run fine on another computer for
a week, but then dump a core or stop with an error. But this is quite
commonplace with x86 hardware.

For example, my girlfriend’s IBM brand FreeBSD computer can run the stress testing software indefinitely while she is running the GIMP, Netscape, and all sorts of other things. This is one of the few PCs that never has any problems with this stress testing software. But most of the other servers I set up, from PIIIs, dual processor PIIIs and dual Celerons, to Cyrix 6×86 and MII, end up having a problem with my software after anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. But they all have remarkable uptimes, and none crash for any reason other than human error (like kicking the cord).

However, my Amigas and my PowerMacs can run this software indefinitely.

So although I work with x86 extensively, it’s not my ideal choice. So what
else is there? There’s SPARC, MIPS, m68k, PowerPC, Alpha, StrongARM… pleanty of choices.

I have a few PowerMacs and a dual processor Amiga (68060 and 200 mhz PPC 604e); however, NetBSD for PowerMacs is not yet as mature as I need it to be. For one, there is no port of MIT pthreads, which is required for MySQL. Several of my users depend on MySQL, so until that is fixed, I can’t consider using my PowerMac. Also, because of the need to boot using Open Firmware, I cannot set up my PowerMac to boot unattended. Since my machine is colocated, I would have to be able to run down to the colocation facility if anything ever happened to it. That’s
fine if I’m in the city, but what happens when I’m travelling in Europe?

SPARC is nice, but expensive. If I could afford a nice UltraSPARC, I
would. However, this porject started as a way to have a home for
geeks; coming up with a minimum of $3000 for something I didn’t even plan to charge for wasn’t an option.

Alpha seems too much like PC hardware, but I’d certainly be willing to
give it a try should send me an old Alpha box.

With MIPS, again, the issue is price. I’ve always respected the quality of
SGI hardware, so I’d definitely set one up if one were donated.

StrongARM is decent. I even researched this a bit; I can get an ATX
motherboard from the UK with a 233 mhz StrongARM for about 310 quid. Not too bad.

But short of all of that, I had a nice Amiga 4000 with a 66 mhz 68060, 64
bit ram, and wide ultra SCSI on board. Now what impresses me about this
hardware is that I’ve run it constantly. When I went to New Orleans last
year during the summer, I left it in the apartment, running, while the
temperatures were up around 100 degrees. When I came back, it was
fine. Not a complaint.

That’s the way it’s always been with all of my Amigas. I plug them in,
they run; when I’m done, I turn off the monitor. So when I was considering
what computer to use as a server when I’d be paying for a burstable 10
Mbps colocation, I wanted something that would be stable and consistent.

 Hence Amiga.

One of my users, after reading your letter (and, I guess, Jerry’s),
thought that I should mention the load average of the server; I assume
this is because of the indirectly stated assumption that a 66 mhz 68060 is
just squeaking by. To clarify that, a 66 mhz 68060 is faster per mhz than
any Pentium by a measurable margin when using either optimised code (such as a distributed.net client) or straight compiled code (such as LAME). We get about 25,000 hits a day, for a total of about 200 megs a day, which accounts for one e

ighth of one percent of the CPU time. We run as a Stratum 2 time server for several hundred computers, we run POP and IMAP services, sendmail, and we’re the primary nameserver for perhaps a hundred machines. With a distributed.net client running, our load average hovers arount 1.18, which means that without the dnet client, we’d be idle most of the time.

If that weren’t good enough, NetBSD 1.5 (we’re running 1.4.2) has a much
improved virtual memory system (UVM), improvements and speedups in the TCP stack (and complete IPv6 support), scheduler enhancements, good softdep support in the filesystem (as if two 10k rpm 18 gig IBM wide ultra drives aren’t fast enough), and more.

In other words, things are only going to get better.

The other question you raise (sort of) is why Linux gets so much more
attention than the BSD flavors. I’m still trying to figure that one
out. Part of it is probably due to the existance of Red Hat and
Caldera and others. FreeBSD gets some promotion from Walnut
Creek/BSDi, but one only has to look at the success of Slackware to
see how that compares.

It’s all hype; people love buzz words, and so a cycle begins: people talk
about Linux, companies spring up to provide Linux stuff, and people hear
more and talk more about Linux.

It’s not a bad thing; anything that moves the mainstream away from
Microsoft is good. However, the current trend in Linux is not good. Red
Hat (the company), arguably the biggest force in popularising Linux in the
US, is becoming less and less like Linux and more and more like a software company. They’re releasing unstable release after unstable release with no apologies. Something I said a little while ago, and someone has been using as his quote in his email:
In the Linux world, all of the major distributions have become
companies. How much revenue would Red Hat generate if their product was flawless? How much support would they sell?

I summarise this by saying that it is no longer in their best interest to
have the best product. It appears to be sufficient to have a working
product they can use to “ride the wave” of popularity of Linux.

I used Linux for a long time, but ultimately I was always frustrated with
the (sometimes significant) differences between the distributions, and
sometimes the differences between versions of the same distribution. Why
was it that an Amiga running AmigaDOS was more consistent with Apache and Samba docs than any particular Linux? Where was Linux sticking all of
these config files, and why wasn’t there documentation saying where the
stuff was and why?

When I first started using BSD, I fell in love with its consistency, its
no bull attitude towards ports and packa
ges, and its professional and
clean feel. Needless to say, I don’t do much linux anymore.

It may well be due to the people involved. Linus Torvalds is a
likeable guy, a smart guy, easily identifiable by a largely computer
illiterate press as an anti-Gates. And he looks the part. Bob Young is
loud and flambouyant. Caldera’s the company that sued Microsoft and probably would have won if it hadn’t settled out of court. Richard
Stallman torques a lot of people off, but he’s very good at getting
himself heard, and the GPL seems designed at least in part to attract
attention. The BSD license is more free than the GPL, but while
freedom is one of Stallman’s goals, clearly getting attention for his
movement is another, and in that regard Stallman succeeds much more than the BSD camp. The BSD license may be too free for its own good.

Yes, there aren’t many “figureheads” for BSD; most of the ones I know of
don’t complain about Linux, whereas Linux people often do complain about the BSD folks (the major complaint being the license).

I know Jerry pays more attention to Linux than the BSDs partly because Linux has a bigger audience, but he certainly knows more about Linux than about any other Unix. Very soon after he launched his website, a couple of Linux gurus (most notably Moshe Bar, himself now a Byte columnist) started corresponding with him regularly, and they’ve made Linux a reasonably comfortable place for him, answering his questions and getting him up and going.

So then it should be their responsibility, as Linux advocates, to give
Jerry a slightly more complete story, in my opinion.

As for the rest of the press, most of them pay attention to Linux only because of the aforementioned talking heads. I have a degree in journalism from supposedly the best journalism school in the free world, which gives me some insight into how the press works (or doesn’t, as is usually the case). There are computer journalists who get it, but a g

ood deal of them are writing about computers for no reason in particular, and their previous job and their next job are likely to be writing about something else. In journalism, if three sources corroborate something, you can treat it as fact. Microsoft-sympathetic sources are rampant, wherever you are. The journalist probably has a Mac sympathy since there’s a decent chance that’s what he uses. If he uses a Windows PC, he may or may not realize it. He’s probably heard of Unix, but his chances of having three local Unix-sympathetic sources to use consistently are fairly slim. His chances of having three Unix-sympathetic sources who agree enough for him to treat what they say as fact (especially if one of his Microsofties contradicts it) are probably even more slim.

Which furthers my previous point: Jerry’s Linux friends should be more
complete in their advocacy.

Media often seems to desire to cater to the lowest common denominator, but it is refreshing to see what happens when it doesn’t; I can’t stand US
news on TV, but I’ll willingly watch BBC news, and will often learn more
about US news than if I had watched a US news program.

But I think that part of the problem, which is compounded by the above, is
that there are too many journaists that are writing about computers,
rather than computer people writing about computers.

After all, which is more presumptuous: a journaist who thinks that he/she
can enter the technical world of computing and write authoritatively about
it, or a computer person who attempts to be a part time journalist? I’d
prefer the latter, even if it doesn’t include all of the accoutrements
that come from the writings of a real journalist.

And looking at the movement as a whole, keep in mind that journalists look for stories. Let’s face it: A college student from Finland writing an operating system and giving it away and millions of people thinking it’s better than Windows is a big story. And let’s face it, RMS running
around looking like John the Baptist extolling the virtues of something called Free Software is another really good story, though he’d get a lot more press if he’d talk more candidly about the rest of his life, since that might be the hook that gets the story. Can’t you see this one now?

Yes. Both of those stories would seem much more interesting than, “It’s
been over three years and counting since a remote hole was found in
OpenBSD”, because it’s not sensationalistic, nor is it interesting, nor
can someone explain how you might end up running OpenBSD on your
appliances (well, you might, but the fact that it’s secure means that it’d
be as boring as telling you why your bathtub hasn’t collapsed yet).

Richard Stallman used to keep a bed in his office at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab.

He slept there. He used the shower down the hall. He didn’t have a home outside the office. It would have distracted him from his cause: Giving away software.

Stallman founded the Free Software movement in 1983. Regarded by many as the prophet of his movement (and looking the part, thanks to his long, unkempt hair and beard), Stallman is both one of its most highly regarded programmers and perhaps its most outspoken activist, speaking at various functions around the world.

Linux was newsworthy, thanks to the people behind it, way back in 1993 when hardly anyone was using it. Back then, they were the story. Now, they can still be the story, depending on the writer’s approach.

If there are similar stories in the BSD camp, I’m not aware of them. (I can tell you the philosophical differences between OpenBSD,  NetBSD and FreeBSD and I know a little about the BSD directory structure, but that’s where my knowledge runs up against its limits. I’d say I’m more familiar with BSD than the average computer user but that’s not saying much.) But I can tell you my editor would have absolutely eaten this up. After he or she confirmed it wasn’t fiction.

The history is a little dry; the only “juicy” part is where Berkeley had
to deal with a lawsuit from AT&T (or Bell Labs; I’m not doing my research
here) before they could make their source free.

Nowadays, people are interested because a major layer of Mac OS X is BSD, and is taken from the FreeBSD and NetBSD source trees. Therefore, millions of people who otherwise know nothing about BSD or its history will end up running it when Mac OS X Final comes out in January; lots of people already are running Mac OS X Beta, but chances are good that the people who bought the Beta know about the fact that it’s running on BSD.

And it’s certainly arguable that BSD is much more powerful and robust than Windows 2000. So there’s a story for you. Does that answer any of your question?

Yes; I hope I’ve clarified my issues, too.

Neat site! I’ll have to keep up on it.

John Klos


I know there’s a word for this
I know ’cause we’ve all at some time said it
like when we were little kids
we’d fight each other ’til someone would give in
and you’d make him tell you ‘uncle’
  –Aimee Mann, “I Know There’s a Word” (Whatever, 1993)

Those lyrics came to mind the instant I read this.  My talkback is #22. There’s little point in reproducing any of it here.

I had a run-in with Mr. Darren (I recognize his style) the summer before last. Typical story Jerry tells. Jerry talks about Apple attack dogs who leap on anyone who dares write anything negative about Apple. Same principle here. Eventually you reach the point where you get sick of it and therefore don’t write anything at all about the subject to avoid the attack dogs.

The ignorance these people display about how computer journalism and the computer industry itself operate is unbelievable. Is it so unusual to learn something about a subject before opening your mouth about it?

This kind of crap makes me glad that now I’m not writing a book about Linux and Windows that might actually suggest that some people might have reason to run Windows. Oh, hell. I’ll go ahead and say it. Attention zealots: You know what software your beloved O’Reilly uses to write and edit its manuscripts? Microsoft Word!

On to a more pleasant subject. Good thing there’s a whole lot more to life than just computers. A friend called me up and told me to make sure I picked up the November issue of Vanity Fair because of a brief Aimee Mann/Michael Penn feature in it, plus Elvis Costello’s Top 500 recommended CDs. Good stuff. The issue kept me distracted from my article (due ASAP) for the better part of an hour.

Elvis’ best line: “As for the hit records of today, maybe some of them will sound just fantastic in 20 years’ time. It’s your life. So! No Marilyn, Korn, Puffy, Eddie Money–sorry, Kid Rock–Limp Bizkit, Ricky, Britney, Backstreet Boys, etc., etc.”

Here here!

Mail later. Probably. Assuming I bother.

It’s later. In March of 1999, Jerry was having some or another Linux problem, he got mail-bombed, and I sent him a letter, addressing him but also the Linux zealotry, asking, “What do you want? Do you want to be a punk computer like the Amiga, that no one uses? Repeat after me: Criticism of Linux is not a personal attack on me.” Jerry printed it, the result was a lot of mail.

One of them was this letter, to which I started writing a response but never got around to finishing because I couldn’t figure out what he wanted from me. This is, I’m pretty certain, the same “Darren” who wrote the “Jerry Pournelle finally admits he’s a Microsoft shill” headline at Linuxtoday.

I believe that what he and others like him are calling for is not journalism, nor is it editorial (which is where you call it like you see it–technically, that’s what Jerry Pournelle does. He’s a columnist, not a journalist) but rather, sheer advocacy.

I present it here. Opinions welcome–the mail link’s to the left, and you can leave comments by clicking on the skull icon at the end of the message (that’s what that’s for–I just haven’t gotten around to changing it).

From: Darren [SMTP:PCTech1018@netscape.net]Sent: Thursday, March 11, 1999 11:09 AM
Subject: RE: Your letter on Chaos Manor


You asked the question “What do Linux Users want?”.

We want ACCURATE reporting.  This does not mean that we do not accept negative commentary.  This means that we are sick and tired of people with obvious Microsoft slants propagating unsubstantiated FUD while claiming journalistic objectivity.

Jerry Pournelle has a long history of being pro-microsoft.  His negative comments about Linux have a history of being based in ignorance. When he first started working with Linux and complaining about the lack of usability of Linux, he hadn’t even gotten a Linux system up and running. Why does he want Linux to continue to exist? So that Microsoft will continue to improve and dominate. These are demonstrable facts.

Journalists have continually spread anti-Linux FUD from Microsoft most often without any basis in fact. Until recently, the “difficult to use” argument was the predominant position. KDE, FVWM and other “easy-to-use” interfaces have existed for YEARS. This FUD has only recently been dying off after Microsoft’s demonstration of Caldera in court. There is the “lack of support” FUD argument. This FUD is finally dying off now that IBM, HP, Compaq, et al, have joined in the Linux “support” bandwagon. What is really ironic is that they are simply repackaging and using the same support mechanisms that have existed since the introduction of Linux 1.0 in 1994. Now we have a concentration of the “lack of applications” FUD. As more people become aware of HOW to use the sites such as www.linuxapps.com and www.metalab.unc.edu, this argument will also become apparent for the FUD that it is.

What do Linux users want? We want techno-journalists who do more than simply repeat the latest FUD out of Redmond.  They claim to have a certain level of expertise in the technical arena, but are most often only successful at demonstrating their own ignorance.

You obviously feel that we have been out of line in our treatment of certain journalists.  Would you care to give me an example of negative Linux reporting that was accurate from Jesse Berst, Jerry Pournelle or Ben Elgin? How about you give me any example at all from ANY journalist?

I am confident that I will be able to take any example you give me and show you how it is slanted, inaccurate, and not worthy of being published by professional journalists.

I do not intend this to be a flame mail, I just want to do my part to kill the bad journalism.


I also have some (very lengthy) mail from someone who I believe is taking a much more constructive approach, or at least whose criticisms are much more valid. That should appear soon.

Scanner troubleshooting secrets

~Mail Follows Today’s Post~

Scanner wisdom. One of the things I did last week was set up a Umax scanner on a new iMac DV. The scanner worked perfectly on a Windows 98 PC, but when I connected it to the Mac it developed all sorts of strange diseases–not warming up properly, only scanning 1/3 of the page before timing out, making really loud noises, crashing the system…

I couldn’t resolve it, so I contacted Umax technical support. The tech I spoke with reminded me of a number of scanner tips I’d heard before but had forgotten, and besides that, I rarely if ever see them in the scanner manuals.

  • Plug scanners directly into the wall, not into a power strip. I’ve never heard a good explanation of why scanners are more sensitive to this than any other peripheral, but I’ve seen it work.
  • Plug USB scanners into a powered hub, or better yet, directly into the computer. USB scanners shouldn’t need power from the USB port, since they have their own power source, but this seems to make a difference.
  • Download the newest drivers, especially if you have a young operating system like MacOS 9, Mac OS X, Windows ME, or Windows 2000. It can take a little while for the scanner drivers to completely stabilize. Don’t install off the CD that came with the scanner, because it might be out of date. Get the newest stuff from the manufacturer’s Web site.
  • Uninstall old drivers before installing the new ones. This was the problem that bit me. The new driver didn’t totally overwrite the old one, creating a conflict that made the scanner go goofy.
  • Buy your scanner from a company that has a track record of providing updated drivers. Yes, that probably means you shouldn’t buy the $15 scanner with the $25 mail-in rebate. Yes, that means don’t buy HP. Up until a couple of years ago, getting NT drivers out of HP was like pulling teeth; now HP is charging for Windows 2000 drivers. HP also likes to abandon and then pick back up Mac support on a whim. Terrible track record.

Umax’s track record is pretty darn good. I’ve downloaded NT drivers for some really ancient Umax scanners after replacing old Macs with NT boxes. I once ran into a weird incompatibility with a seven-year-old Umax scanner–it was a B&W G3 with a wide SCSI controller (why, I don’t know) running Mac OS 8.6. Now that I think about it, I think the incompatibility was with the controller card. The scanner was discontinued years ago (before Mac OS 8 came out), so expecting them to provide a fix was way out of line.
m I’ve ever had with a Umax that they didn’t resolve, so when I spec out a scanner at work, Umax is always on my short list.

And here’s something I just found interesting. Maybe I’m the only one. But in reading the mail on Jerry Pournelle’s site, I found this. John Klos, administrator of sixgirls.org, takes Jerry to task for saying a Celeron can’t be a server. He cites his 66 MHz 68060-based Amiga 4000, which apparently acts as a mail and Web server, as proof. Though the most powerful m68k-based machine ever made, its processing power pales next to any Celeron (spare the original cacheless Celeron 266 and 300).

I think the point he was trying to make was that Unix plays by different rules. Indeed, when your server OS isn’t joined at the hip to a GUI and a Web browser and whatever else Gates tosses in on a whim, you can do a lot more work with less. His Amiga would make a lousy terminal server, but for serving up static Web pages and e-mail, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. Hosting a bunch of Web sites on an Amiga 4000 just because I could sounds very much like something I’d try myself if I had the hardware available or was willing to pay for the hardware necessary.

But I see Jerry Pournelle’s point as well.

It’s probably not the soundest business practice to advertise that you’re running off a several-year-old sub-100 MHz server, because that makes people nervous. Microsoft’s done a pretty admirable job of pounding everything slower than 350 MHz into obsolescence and the public knows this. And Intel and AMD have done a good job of marketing their high-end CPUs, resulting in people tending to lay blame at the CPU’s feet if it’s anything but a recent Pentium III. And, well, if you’re running off a shiny new IBM Netfinity, it’s very easy to get it fixed, or if need be, to replace it with another identical one. I know where to get true-blue Amiga parts and I even know which ones are interchangeable with PCs, but you might well be surprised to hear you can still get parts and that some are interchangeable.

But I’m sure there are far, far more sub-100 MHz machines out there in mission-critical situations functioning just fine than anyone wants to admit. I know we had many at my previous employer, and we have several at my current job, and it doesn’t make me nervous. The biggest difference is that most of them have nameplates like Sun and DEC and Compaq and IBM on them, rather than Commodore. But then again, Commodore’s reputation aside, it’s been years since I’ve seen a computer as well built as my Amiga 2000. (The last was the IBM PS/2 Model 80, which cost five times as much.) If I could get Amiga network cards for a decent price, you’d better believe I’d be running that computer as a firewall/proxy and other duties as assigned. I could probably get five years’ uninterrupted service from old Amy. Then I’d just replace her memory and get another ten.

The thing that makes me most nervous about John Klos’ situation is the business model’s dependence on him. I have faith in his A4000. I have faith in his ability to fix it if things do go wrong (anyone running NetBSD on an Amiga knows his machine better than the onsite techs who fix NetFinity servers know theirs). But there’s such thing as too much importance. I don’t let Apple certified techs come onsite to fix our Macs anymore at work, because I got tired of them breaking other things while they did warranty work and having to fix three things after they left. I know their machines better than they do. That makes me irreplaceable. A little job security is good. Too much job sercurity is bad, very bad. I’ll be doing the same thing next year and the year after that. It’s good to be able to say, “Call somebody else.” But that’s his problem, not his company’s or his customers’.


From: rock4uandme
To: dfarq@swbell.net
Sent: Wednesday, October 25, 2000 1:22 PM
Subject: i`m having trouble with my canon bjc-210printer…

i`m having trouble with my canon bjc210 printer it`s printing every thing all red..Can you help???
thank you!!    john c

Printers aren’t my specialty and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Canon BJC210, but if your printer has replacable printheads (some printers make the printhead part of the ink cartridge while others make them a separate component), try replacing them. That was the problem with the only Canon printer I’ve ever fixed.
You might try another color ink cartridge too; sometimes those go bad even if they still have ink in them.
If that fails, Canon does have a tech support page for that printer. I gave it a quick look and it’s a bit sketchy, but maybe it’ll help. If nothing else, there’s an e-mail address for questions. The page is at (to save you from navigating the entire www.ccsi.canon.com page).

I hope that helps.


From: Bruce Edwards
Subject: Crazy Win98 Networking Computer Problem

Dear Dave:

I am having a crazy computer problem which I am hoping you or your readers
may be able to give me a clue to.  I do have this posted on my daily
journal, but since I get very little traffic, I thought your readership or
yourself may be able to help.  Here’s the problem:

My wife’s computer suddenly and inexplicably became very slow when accessing
web sites and usually when accessing her e-mail.  We access the internet
normally through the LAN I installed at home.  This goes to a Wingate
machine which is connected to the aDSL line allowing shared access to the

My computer still sends and receives e-mail and accesses the web at full
speed.  Alice’s computer now appears to access the web text at about the
speed of a 9600 baud modem with graphics coming down even more slowly if at
all.  Also, her e-mail (Outlook Express) usually times out when going
through the LAN to the Wingate machine and then out over the internet. 
The LAN is working since she is making a connection out that way.

File transfer via the LAN between my PC and hers goes at full speed.
Something is causing her internet access to slow to a crawl while mine is
unaffected.  Also, it appears to be only part of her internet access.  I can
telnet out from her computer and connect to external servers very fast, as
fast as always.  I know telnet is just simple text, but the connection to
the server is very rapid too while connecting to a server via an http
browser is much much slower and then, once connected, the data flows so slow
it’s crazy.

Also, dial-up and connect to the internet via AOL and then use her mail
client and (external to AOL) browser works fine and is as speedy as you
would expect for a 56K modem.  What gives?

I tried reinstalling windows over the existing set-up (did not do anything)
and finally started over from “bare metal” as some like to say.  Reformat
the C drive.  Reinstall Windows 98, reinstall all the drivers, apps, tweak
the configuration, get it all working correctly.  Guess what?  Same slow
speed via the aDSL LAN connection even though my computer zips out via the
same connection.  Any suggestions?


Bruce W. Edwards
e-mail:  bruce@BruceEdwards.com
Check www.BruceEdwards.com/journal  for my daily journal.

Bruce  🙂
Bruce W. Edwards
Sr. I.S. Auditor  

From: Dave Farquhar [mailto:dfarq@swbell.net]Sent: Monday, October 23, 2000 6:16 PM
To: Edwards, Bruce
Cc: Diana Farquhar
Subject: Re: Crazy Win98 Networking Computer Problem

Hi Bruce,
The best thing I can think of is your MTU setting–have you run any of those MTU optimization programs? Those can have precisely the effect you describe at times. Try setting yor MTU back to 1500 and see what that does. While I wholeheartedly recommend them for dialup connections, MTU tweaking and any sort of LAN definitely don’t mix–to the point that I almost regret even mentioning the things in Optimizing Windows.
Short of that, I’d suggest ripping out all of your networking protocols and adapters from the Network control panel and add back in TCP/IP and only the other things you absolutely need. This’ll keep Windows from getting confused and trying to use the wrong transport, and eliminate the corrupted TCP/IP possibility. These are remote, but possible. Though your reinstall should have eliminated that possibility…
If it’s neither of those things, I’d start to suspect hardware. Make sure you don’t have an interrupt conflict (rare these days, but I just saw one a couple weeks ago so I don’t rule them out). Also try swapping in a different cable or NIC in your wife’s machine. Cables of course go bad more frequently than NICs, though I’ve had horrible luck with cheap NICs. At this point I won’t buy any ethernet NIC other than a Bay Netgear, 3Com or Intel.
I hope that helps. Let me know how it goes for you.

From: Bruce Edwards

Hi Dave:
Thank you for posting on your web site. I thought you would like an update.
I verified the MTU setting was still at 1500 (it was).  I have not used one of the optimizing programs on this PC.
I removed all the adapters from the PC via the control panel.  Rebooted and only added back TCP/IP on the Ethernet card. 
I double checked the interrupts in the control panel, there do not appear to be any conflicts and all devices report proper function.
I still need to 100% verify the wiring/hubs.  I think they are O.K. since that PC, using the same adapter, is able to file share with other PCs on the network.  That also implies that the adapter is O.K.
I will plug my PC into the same hub and port as my wife’s using the same cable to verify that the network infrastructure is O.K.
Then, I’ll removed the adapter and try a different one.
Hopefully one of these things will work.

This is a longshot, but… I’m wondering if maybe your DNS settings are off, or if your browser might be set to use a proxy server that doesn’t exist. That’s the only other thing I can think of that can cause sporadic slow access, unless the problem is your Web browser itself. Whichever browser you’re using, have you by any chance tried installing and testing the other one to see if it has the same problems?
In my experience, IE 5.5 isn’t exactly the greatest of performers, or when it does perform well, it seems to be by monopolizing CPU time. I’ve gotten much better results with IE 5.0. As for Netscape, I do wish they’d get it right again someday…
Thanks for the update. Hopefully we can find an answer.



Poor Windows 98 Network Performance. The MTU once again reared its ugly head at work yesterday. A 1.5 meg file was taking five minutes to copy. Forget about copying anything of respectable size–we’re talking about an all-day affair here. A perplexed colleague called me and asked why. Once again I suspected MTU tinkering. After setting the MTU back to the default of 1500 (the best value to use on a LAN), we were able to copy a 53-meg file in about 30 seconds, which was of course a tremendous improvement.

Once again, don’t run the MTU optimizers on computers that’ll be used on a LAN. The slight increase in modem speed isn’t worth crippling your network performance.

Basic Mac/PC networking. A friend passed along a question about how to build a network either a Mac or a PC could talk on. That can become a complex subject (I wonder if it’s worthy of a book?), but here are the basics.

If all you need is for the Macs to talk to Macs and PCs to talk to PCs, go to the local computer store and pick up a 100-megabit hub with enough ports to accomodate your machines, cables for your Macs, and network cards for your PCs if they don’t already have them. Get a quality hub and cards–the only really inexpensive brand I trust anymore is Netgear, and the general consensus is that 3Com and Intel are better still, though they’ll cost you more. I’ve been bitten by enough failures to decide that $15 network cards and $25 hubs just aren’t worth the trouble.

The Macs should just start talking via the AppleTalk protocol once you direct AppleTalk to the Ethernet port through the AppleTalk control panel. The PCs will need network card drivers installed, then they can use TCP/IP, NetBEUI or IPX/SPX to communicate. Best to use TCP/IP to limit the number of protocols on your network. Assign your PCs and Macs IP addresses in the 192.168.1.x range, with a subnet mask of You don’t need to worry about the gateway or router settings unless you’ll be using the network to provide Internet access as well.

If you want Internet access, you can add an inexpensive cable/DSL router for about $150 that will serve your PCs and Macs without any problems. Assign your router to

Most mid-range HP and Lexmark laser printers will accept a network card capable of talking to both PCs and Macs.

If you want to share files cross-platform, you’re looking at some bucks. You’ll want a Windows NT or 2000 server (AppleShare IP will talk to both, but it’s not as reliable as NT unfortunately), which will set you back about $1000 for the software. Alternatively, you could install DAVE ( www.thursby.com ), a product that makes Macs speak SMB over TCP/IP like Windows boxes will, so they can use Windows file shares and Windows-hosted printers.

I also see that Thursby is offering a program called MacSOHO, at $99, to accomodate PC/Mac networks. This isn’t suitable for large networks but for a small-scale LAN in the home, small business, school computer lab or church, it should suffice. You can download a trial version before you plunk down the cash.