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Back in the swing of things

Here are some odds and ends, since I’ve gone nearly a week without talking computers.
Intro to Linux. I found this last week. It’s a 50-page PDF file that serves as a nice Linux primer, from the experts at IBM. It’s a must-read for a Windows guru who wants to learn some Linux.

Linux from Scratch. Dustin mentioned Linux From Scratch last week. The idea is you download the source to an already-installed Linux box, then compile everything yourself. Why? Stability, security, and speed.

Security. You’ve got fresh, updated code, compiled yourself, with no extras. If you didn’t compile it, it’s not there. Less software means fewer holes for l337 h4x0r5 (“leet hackers,” or, more properly, script kiddies, or, even more properly, wankers who really need to get a life because they have nothing better to do than try to mess around with my 486s–Steve DeLassus asked me “what the #$%@ is an el-three-three-seven-aitch-four…” last week) to exploit.

Stability. Well, you get that anyway when you liberate your system from Microsoft’s grubby imperialistic mitts, but it makes sense that if you run software built by your system, for your system, it ought to run better. Besides, if you’ve got a borderline CPU or memory module or disk controller and try to compile all that code with aggressive compiler settings, you’ll expose the problems right away instead of later.

Speed. You’re running software built for your system, by your system. Not Mandrake’s PCs. Not Red Hat’s PCs. Yours. You want software optimized for your 486SX? You want software optimized for a P4? You won’t get either anywhere else. And recent GCC compilers with aggressive settings can sometimes (not always) outperform hand-built assembly. It’s hard to know what settings Mandrake or Red Hat or those Debian weirdos used.

I really want to replace my junky Linksys router with a PC running LFS and firewalling software. The Linksys router seems to be fine for Web surfing, but if you want to get beyond serfdom and serve up some content from your home LAN, my Linksys router’s even more finicky and problematic than Linksys’ NICs, which is saying something. It’ll just decide one day it doesn’t want to forward port 80 anymore.

Firewalling. And speaking of that, Dan Seto detailed ways to make a Linux box not even respond to a ping last week. It’s awfully hard for a l337 w4nk3r to find you if he can’t even ping you.

A story. My sister told me this one. She’s a behavioral/autism consultant, and one of her kids likes to belch for attention. He’ll let out an urp, and if you don’t respond, he’ll get closer and closer to you, letting out bigger and bigger belts until you acknowledge it. Di hasn’t managed to break that behavioral habit yet. She was telling her boss, a New Zealander, about this kid (he’s 3).

“Hmm,” he said. “Must be Australian.”

An update. I heard some howls of protest about a cryptic post I made last week. Yes, that was a girl I was talking to in the church parking lot until well past 11 the other night. Yes, we met at church. I’ve known her maybe six months. Yes, she’s nice. Yes, she’s cute. No, I haven’t asked her where she went to high school. Remember, I’m not a native St. Louisan… (And if you clicked on that link, be sure to also check out the driving tips.)

No, I’m not really interested in saying much more about her. Not now.

Two vendors you can count on

Vendors. I’ve been trying to get out of the build-PCs-for-friends business and for the most part I’ve succeeded. My reasons for getting out are twofold: time and support. It takes some time to spec and build one, and if something goes wrong, I’ve got some responsibility for it. It’s something I don’t understand, because the systems I’ve built for myself have been reliable (I had a system appear dead that turned out just to be a corrupt MBR–I can live with that now that I know how to fix it, and it wasn’t the hardware’s fault) but the last two PCs I’ve built for friends have been horrendous.
One of those up and died last week, so we ordered replacement parts. I didn’t get around to placing the order until after close of business Friday, so the orders didn’t get processed until Monday.

I ordered a Gigabyte 7IX-E4 motherboard from Newegg.com. Newegg rakes you over the coals on shipping sometimes, but sometimes they run specials, and this board’s shipping was 5 bucks. Often they’ll charge 10 bucks to ship a CPU, which is ridiculous. Five bucks to ship a motherboard isn’t bad. And their pricing is first-rate–they’re obviously making their profit margins on shipping. But I’ll forgive Newegg’s shipping prices because the package arrived yesterday, even with the holiday Wednesday.

So, if you’re in the market for a motherboard, CPU, video card or hard drive, those guys are worth a first look. Figure out what you want, check the shipping, then check elsewhere and see if they still beat it. I’ll be doing business with them again.

I ordered the CPU, case, and fan (along with another case and video card for me) from Directron.com. Directron’s shipping prices are about as good as you’ll find, and the order is promised today. When Steve DeLassus ordered a batch of stuff from them it arrived promptly, so I trust them. Directron’s pricing is a bit spotty, but their shipping often makes up for it (they wanted $10 more for the CPU, but after shipping they ended up being cheaper than anywhere else I looked) and they’ve got the best case selection I’ve ever seen. Shipping for two cases, a video card, a CPU and CPU fan ended up being about $20, which isn’t bad at all.

Switchboxes. Gatermann’s Linksys KVM switchbox was a disappointment, but I thought to have him try connecting the extension cable directly to his monitor cable to see what that did to the image. I had a hunch that the problem might be the cabling, because I remembered yesterday morning that I’ve seen extension cables cause precisely the effects he was seeing. Sure enough, when he connected the cable (a Belkin, incidentally) to his monitor, the picture quality degraded–worse than it had been with the switchbox in the equation. So I’m going to dig up a couple of other types of cables (I use Fellowes cables on mine) and see if that makes a difference.

Airshows, photography and Linux routing

Gatermann and I went out shooting again yesterday. More exploration of the warehouse district, and we found out that the warehouse district is a halfway decent place to watch an airshow. A couple of cargo planes buzzed us, tipping us off to what was going on, so I went chasing. I’m not the airplane junkie my dad was (few people are), but I’m still a sucker for exotic military planes. I borrowed Gatermann’s telephoto lens and took shots as planes went by. A pair of vintage P-51 Mustangs zoomed by, so I got a few shots of those. A couple of modern fighters made a brief appearance, but I couldn’t get them into the lens quickly enough to identify them. Chances are they were F-16s; not as common a sight as they once were, but you still see them.
I was hoping for a chance to see the Stealth Bomber; about four years ago I was in St. Louis on the 4th and as Gatermann and I were stepping outside to go get something to eat, we heard a low rumble overhead, looked up, and got a spectacular view of the rarely seen and highly classified B-2. Of course there wasn’t a camera in sight so we didn’t get a shot.

This year, a B-52 came from out of nowhere. It was huge–I mean HUGE–and very obviously not an airliner. I’d never seen one in person before so I didn’t identify it immediately. I got it in the camera, zoomed in on it, and figured out what it was. I got several shots. The B-52 is an oldie but a goodie; we used it heavily in Vietnam and in the late 1970s we intended to replace it with the B-1. Carter cancelled the B-1; later Reagan re-initiated it, but it was a disappointment. The B-1 never fully replaced the B-52 and now there’s talk of decommissioning the B-1 completely.

The B-52 was followed by a series of stunt pilots. I guess that’s good for oohs and ahhs, but I wanted to see weird airplanes.

The grand finale was the B-1. It totally snuck up on me; I think Gatermann spotted the thing first. I recognized it but the camera couldn’t catch it–the autofocus wasn’t fast enough. I switched to manual focus and waited. And waited. I spotted it looping around on the east side of the river; most non-classified stuff makes two passes. But you can’t get a good shot from that distance with this lens. I never saw it come back. It didn’t really look like it was landing (Scott Air Force base is across the Mississippi River, in Illinois), but I couldn’t find the thing. I gave up, turned around, and started walking back when Tom yelled and pointed. I quickly turned around, and the B-1 was just barely in range. I pointed and shot as it disappeared behind a warehouse. I think I got it.

I shot more than a full roll of just airplanes.

After airplanes and lunch, we headed out to CompUSA. Gatermann wanted a KVM switch; I wanted Baseball Mogul 2002. A Belkin 4-port switch was $200. A Linksys was $150. Gatermann grabbed the Linksys. I came up empty on Baseball Mogul. We went back to his place, hooked up the Linksys, and it was a real disappointment. It doesn’t pass the third mouse button. Numlock doesn’t work. And it has a slight ghosting effect on the picture. I didn’t notice it but Gatermann did. Stepping the resolution down and lowering the refresh rate didn’t help a whole lot. He’ll be taking the Linksys back. (To Linksys’ credit, the box is made in Taiwan, though its wall wart is made in Red China. I’m not a fan of financing World War III, nor am I a fan of slave labor, so I try to avoid products made in Red China whenever possible. Gatermann does too. I’m not sure what his reasons are but Red China’s treatment of the seven prisoners of war after their pilot kamikazeed our spyplane probably has something to do with it.)

Bottom line: Belkin’s KVM switches are better. I like the Linksys’ metal case better than the plastic case on my Belkin, but the Belkin performs a lot better and its buttons feel more solid. I also like the ability to change displays from the keyboard, rather than having to reach over to the switch like the Linksys requires.

I’m generally not impressed with Linksys’ products. Their DSL router, though it looks really slick, doesn’t forward ports very well. If you just want to split off a cable or DSL connection, it’s great. If you want to learn how the Internet works and run some servers behind your firewall, it’s going to frustrate you. It’s just not as stable as Gatermann’s Pentium-75 running Freesco, which we cobbled together from a bunch of spare parts. Get a used Pentium-75 motherboard with 8 megs of RAM, put it in a $20 AT case along with a $15 floppy drive and a pair of $15 PCI NICs and download Freesco, and you have something much more versatile and reliable for half the price. And a lot of us have most of that stuff laying around already.

And Linksys network cards are absolute junk. Their workmanship isn’t good, their drivers aren’t stable, and the cards have a tendency to just die. Or they age really poorly, spitting out tons and tons of bad packets as they carry out their wretched lives. Netgears are much better, and not much more expensive.

I also gave Gatermann’s Linux configurations a look. Freesco didn’t appear to be forwarding port 80, even though we configured it to, and Apache was installed and I’d verified it was working by opening a browser and going to 127.0.0.1. I tried a variety of things–including forwarding the ports manually from a command line, using the ipportfw command if I remember right–but it never worked. Finally, I tried hitting the Web server from a Windows PC inside Gatermann’s private network. It was denied too. Workstation-oriented Linux distros tend to come locked down really tight by default these days, which is probably a good thing in general, but it makes it really hard to just turn on Web services to the world. I know it can be done but I wouldn’t know where to begin. So I had him download TurboLinux Server 6.5, which will probably solve all his web serving problems.

Ugh. I just got home.

I’ve been out partying. Actually, yes I have. I just got home, and I’m wondering if I’m getting too old for this. One of my best friends is moving to Colorado on Wednesday, so tonight was his going-away party. A lot of people are going to miss him.
Other stuff… What was up with yesterday? Yesterday’s positive karma of 9 has to be my record. I guess I’ll have to tell more work stories or something.

And tomorrow later today I’ll be driving up to Montana Creve Couer to visit Steve DeLassus, who just built a Duron system with minimal phone assistance from me. We’ll do some more tweaking with it, I’ll see if I can coax a little more speed out of it, and I’ll rile up his dog, seeing as the only thing I have to do to rile up Buster is, well, show up.

I wish I had some great, spectacular, wonderful content for you today, but that’s pretty much all I’ve got. And I think it’s time to crash.

Well, I thought it was time. I fell off the ‘net there for a minute. My Linksys router just decided to quit forwarding port 80 for whatever reason. I re-ran the setup and it worked fine. It was faster than cycling power, which might have worked too. But I’m understandably nervous now. Maybe I need to go back to a Linux box for routing.

Dinner and network troubleshooting

Dinner with Gatermann last night. It’s almost become a ritual: Slingers at the Courtesy Diner, then off to Ted Drewes’ for frozen custard. We didn’t waste any time at Courtesy because the jukebox was especially bad last night. Backstreet Boys or ‘NSync or 98 Degrees were playing when we got in, followed by another one of the boy bands (they all sound the same), followed by Brittney Spears, followed by that really stupid “It Wasn’t Me” song–I’ve forgotten the name of the so-called artist, which is just as well. That was followed up by “All Star” by Smashmouth. Now, when I’m in my car and Smashmouth comes on the radio, I change the station, because that song was really overplayed when it came out, and it never was all that good to begin with. It’s really sad when that band is the best thing you hear all night when you go somewhere. I said something to Gatermann about buying a place like that, then putting nothing but goth on the jukebox. Sisters of Mercy, Joy Division, Bauhaus, The Cult, The Cure, The Mission… What else do you need? We could call the place “Death’s Diner” or something. Since diner fare lowers your life expectancy anyway, why not, right?
But back to really overplayed songs… “All Star” was followed with “Cowboy” by Kid Rock. “Well I’ll pack up my bags and then I’ll head out west,” rapped the trash-mouth white boy from the trailer park. I looked at Gatermann. “Whaddya say we head out west and get outta here?” He agreed.

Drewes’ wasn’t especially crowded. There wasn’t much room in the parking lot, but once the weather warms up you normally can’t find a parking spot at all and have to park in the neighborhood.

We went back over to Gatermann’s, planning to play some Railroad Tycoon, since neither of us have played in months, if not over a year. Since he doesn’t have two Windows boxes anymore, I brought my IBM ThinkPad. I configured the network (I use a 192-net with DHCP; Tom uses a 10-net without DHCP),
then I plugged in using the cable from his Linux box, and I got lights on my Xircom PCMCIA NIC, but Tom noticed there weren’t any lights on the hub. I checked my network statistics. It had sent out a bunch of packets but never received any. I tried pinging out and just got timeouts. I re-seated the cable on both sides, then I re-seated the NIC’s dongle. Nothing changed. I wondered if I had a bad port or a bad cable. So I switched ports, to no avail. I powered the hub down and back up, thinking maybe it was confused. Nothing. We didn’t have any extra cables, so I plugged the cable I was using back into his Linux box. The lights on the card lit right up, as did the ports on the hub. I was able to ping too.

At one point I even stopped the card, ejected it, and plugged it back in. That didn’t help either. Tom’s network just didn’t seem to like my Xircom card, though it works great on my LAN.

Then I asked Tom if his hub was a straight 100-megabit hub or a dual-speed 10/100 hub. He said it was straight 100-megabit. That was the problem. My Xircom is a 10-megabit card. I started off with a 10-megabit LAN, then later upgraded to a dual-speed 10/100 hub so I wouldn’t have to replace all my cards. Later I added a four-port switch in the form of a Linksys cable/DSL router.

All of Tom’s cards are dual 10/100 (with the exception of a Kingston PCI NE2000 clone, but that card sits in his Linux router and runs to his DSL modem), so we could have solved the problem with a crossover cable. We’d lose Internet connectivity but that’s not necessary for two-player Railroad Tycoon. Tom has a crossover cable… in Kansas City. I have a crossover cable… at church. Neither was doing us any good.

So we didn’t play any Railroad Tycoon. We went through Tom’s files, found a few old pictures of me, and scanned one of them. The picture on my site right now is me in southern Illinois in May or June 1998. Some day I might even put up a current photo… Tom’s thinking I need to put on a pair of black jeans and a Joy Division t-shirt, then we can go find someplace with a shadowy, industrial feel to it and snap some pictures. He thinks it’d go well with the atmosphere I’ve got here. I tend to agree.

More Like This: Personal Networking

CD’s; Duron deal; Journal site; Cheap nic; DMA problem;

MAILBAG:
From: Steve Delassus
Subject: Cheap CDs. Too cheap?

Hey, I found a spindle of 100 16X 80-minute CDs at Best Buy for $25 after rebate. Seemed like a good deal, so I grabbed it. They’re imation CDs, which I thought had at least a decent reputation. Have you heard anything to the contrary?

Steve
~~~~~
I’ll take that over private label who-knows-what. I like Kodaks best, but Imations are certainly better than, oh, Infodisc… But what were you doing at Best Bait-n-Switch?
~~~~~~~~~~
From: “David Huff”
Subject: good Duron deal

Dave,

Here’s another good deal for those wanting to build an inexpensive PC:

AMD Duron 750 OEM – $38.00 http://www.gpscomputersvcs.com/amdprocessors.html

Not too shabby ๐Ÿ™‚

Regards,
Dave
~~~~~
Wow. Thanks much. A Duron for a song. A Backstreet Boys song.
~~~~~~~~~~
From:
Subject: A good journal site.

Dave,

I would like to suggest Blogger.com. I’ve used it since February and haven’t had a problem with it. You can setup your own templates or use one of theirs. You can use your existing FTP account or they can provide one at blogspot.com. I set my journal up and just copied their template information to use my existing page format. I have my journal online at http://mkelley.net/notes .

I also must say that we have the same tastes in music, with the Pixies and the Church and some of the others you’ve listed. I have a video that came out for the album after Starfish and it has all of the Church’s music videos from the early 80’s to their end in the 90’s. If I can find it’s name I’ll pass that along. It should be cheap at your local used video/music stop.

ever listen to the Smiths?

Thanks, Mike Kelley
~~~~~
I’ll look into Blogger, but I’d really prefer something Linux-based, preferably Open Source so I can make changes to it down the line if I need a feature, and something using a database backend so I can rapidly make changes. If I’m going to change, I want to make a change that’ll give me lots of versatility.

I’m familiar with The Smiths but never really got into them. As far as Manchester bands go, I pretty much stuck with Joy Division and to a lesser degree, New Order. I think it’s Morrissey I object to, because I really enjoyed Johnny Marr’s guitar work with Electronic and with The The. Morrissey’s veganism (or is he just a militant vegetarian?) and asexuality just weirds me out, I guess.
~~~~~~~~~~
From: “Jeff Hurchalla”
Subject: cheap nic

Hi Dave, Don’t know if you’ve already caught this, but I got a linksys 10/100 nic at Best Buy for $5 after rebate ($10 regular) on Thrusday 4/26. I can’t say how long it’ll last, but at that kind of price I thought you and your readers might like to hear about it. The card is suppoosed to support 95/98/me/2000, possibly NT and macOS, and also has unsupported drivers for linux. On another note, I’m having the most horrendous time setting up networking in win98 imaginable. I used to work in Tcp/ip programming so of course it feels like it shouldnt be anywhere near this hard to do.. but that wasn’t using anything microsoft. Well enough complaining, as fun as it is ๐Ÿ™‚ Do you have any suggestions for a web page to look at that goes in depth? I want to connect win98 computer to another win98, I’m using a linksys card in one and an NDC card in the other. The one with the linksys also has a Dlink card connected to a cable modem. I’ve attempted to set up internet connection sharing on the computer with 2 cards(it is 98se), but right now I can’t get either computer to see the other one. They are in the same workgroup. The ICS computer appears to have assigned 192.168.0.1 to the linksys(home) tcp/ip adapter, and the other nic in that computer is connected to the cable modem and working fine. For the other computer, I’ve set windows to automatically assign an IP address. Well if you’ve got any quick suggestions or places for me to look, let me know – I wouldn’t want you to waste time on it – I can do that for both of us quite easily! Take care, Jeff
~~~~~
Easy solution. Don’t set it to obtain an IP address automatically. Give the other (non-ICS) PC an address in the 192.168.0.x range yourself, with subnet mask of 255.255.255.0 and gateway of 192.168.0.1, then open a command prompt and try to ping the other one. If that works, specify your DNS addresses, then try pinging yahoo.com. I’m betting both will work, as will file and printer sharing if you turn that on (but be sure to unbind the Microsoft client from your Dlink card).

Unless you’ve got a DHCP server somewhere on the network, Windows will assign it a goofy address (in the 64.x.x.x range if I remember right–it’s some range that makes absolutely no sense) and you won’t see anything.

As for the NIC, that’s a nice price but I really don’t like to use Linksys cards. The Netgear card selling at CompUSA for $10 this week is a better card. I can confirm that Linux readily recognizes the Linksys, but the failure rate is higher than I like to see. Thanks for the tip though.
~~~~~~~~~~
From: “Al Hedstrom”
Subject: The Move

Dave –

I also want to move my stuff, but I’ll move it to a host and probably use something like Coffee Cup. One question: How are you moving all your archives? Page by page?

Al Hedstrom
~~~~~
Yep, I think that’s the way I’m going to have to do it. I’m looking into alternatives but right now I don’t see any. I’m going to set up a test server and play around with it. I haven’t downloaded my Manila site yet; it may be possible to extract the stuff. That’d be nice. If I can extract the text I can probably wrap the template around it and fake out Greymatter, but I haven’t really looked into it the way I should. Maybe next weekend.
~~~~~~~~~~
From: Mike Barkman
Subject: DMA problem

Hi Dave —

A small problem: I’m hurriedly converting my spare box for my son-in-law, as his second office machine has carked.

It has a Gigabyte GA5AA m/b with the ALi chipset and 100 MHz bus. The processor is AMD K6-II-350 and 64 MB of SDram. I’ve transferred his two drives over — Seagate medallists, one 6 GB and the other 8 GB. I cleaned off the c: partition and reinstalled Win98SE and his working software.

Problem: I enabled DMA for each drive and the CDRom; but it won’t stick — reboot and the checkmark has vanished.

Any ideas? I was transferring files over my network, and the speed was dead slow — that’s what tipped me off.

Cheers /Mike
~~~~~
Sounds like you don’t have the proper drivers for your ALi chipset. Download those from your Gigabyte’s site and install them, and chances are that’ll clear up the DMA issue.

Troubleshooting Mac extensions

Troubleshooting Macintosh extensions. An extensions conflict is where you lose your innocence with fixing a Mac. Not all extensions and control panels get along, and certain combinations can have disastrous results.

Here’s my method. Create a folder on the desktop. Drag exactly half the extensions out of System Folder:Extensions and drop them in the folder. Select all the extensions in that new folder and give them a label, so they stand out (it makes them a different color). Now reboot and see if the problem goes away. If it doesn’t, create another folder, move the remaining extensions into it and give them a label. Move the first batch back into the extensions folder and reboot.

Now, add half your extensions back from the folder on the desktop to the extensions folder. If the problem comes back, move that half back into the second folder on the desktop and move the now-known good half into the extensions folder. After each test, remove the labels from the extensions in the extensions folder. Just keep swapping halves until you narrow it down to one bad extension, using labels to keep yourself from getting lost.

I don’t recommend Conflict Catcher because all it does is move the extensions around for you–it’s no easier than this method, and this method doesn’t cost $50.

This is how we build ’em in St. Louis. Neither Gatermann nor I are really in the habit of naming our PCs unless a name is just painfully obvious. In the case of his Linux gateway, the name was painfully obvious. One name and one name only fits: Mir.

This is how we build computers in St. Louis. This is Tom Gatermann’s Linux gateway: a Micronics P75 board with a Cirrus Logic PCI SVGA card, a Kingston PCI NE2000 clone connecting to the Internet, and a Bay Netgear 310TX PCI 10/100 (DEC Tulip chipset) connecting to the local LAN. Yes, that AT case was as cheap as it looks. Maybe cheaper.

Inside the case, there’s an IMES 8X IDE CD-ROM, an ancient 1.44 MB floppy drive of unknown origin, and a 1.2 GB Quantum Bigfoot HD, of which about 1.5 MB is used (booting’s much faster off the HD than off the floppy).

“>

Mir is made from, well, a pile of junk. A Micronics P75 board. A Cirrus Logic PCI SVGA card. Whatever 72-pin SIMMs we had laying around. A Quantum Bigfoot 1.2-gig HD. A really trashed 3.5″ floppy drive. The cheapest-looking AT case ever. But we did skip the Linksys NICs. The NICs are a Kingston PCI NE2000 clone and a Bay Netgear 10/100 based on the DEC Tulip chipset.

We assembled it outside the case because we had so much trouble getting it going correctly–it’s much easier to swap components when they’re accessible. Once we got it going, we never bothered to put everything back inside the case. Maybe we’re trend-setters and this is the next fad in computing. After all, what’s the logical next step after translucency?

02/02/2001

Linksys revisited. Thanks for the corrections on the Linksys router. Yes indeed, with recent firmware you can change the MAC address. It’s buried, but that’s good–you shouldn’t routinely do that anyway.

Reviews of reviews again. Time to get back in the saddle. Yee-hah.

Pentium 4 systems (THG)

In this roundup, Tom Pabst complained bitterly about PC makers’ exploiting public ignorance, selling high-clock speed systems with shoddy peripherals in order to drive down the cost. So he built systems roughly equivalent to four PCs–a low-end P4 and similarly priced Athlon, and a high-end P4 and the top-of-the-line Athlon. Then he pitted them against each other. The P4s came up sorely lacking.

Performance of the real McCoy could vary significantly (no one thinks about the power supply in performance equations, but it plays a role), so this test is anything but conclusive, but it does finally and authoritatively point out the differences good components make. People who’ve read Computer Shopper (US) religiously and seen system shootouts know this–Shopper always printed system configurations, and occasionally an overachiever would show up, with great components, and blow away supposedly higher-end systems. This article on THG examines this phenomenon and does it well, I think.

Pabst does seem to forget that businesses aren’t in business to care about consumers though–they’re in business to make money. I’d like to think the marketplace rewards straight-shooters, but considering my book sales, I know that’s not always the case. As long as Dell thinks it’s good for profits to stay in bed with Intel, Dell will be in bed with Intel, no matter what it does to consumers.

MSI MS-6339 P4 motherboard (Sharky Extreme)

This is a good look at a fairly competitive P4 board, which explains the ins and outs of this board and why Intel changed the ATX standard. It points out this board’s quirks, and benchmarks it against an Intel and an Asus board. It does a good job of pointing out the reasons why you probably don’t want to buy a P4 at this time. I found it interesting that this benchmark didn’t mention Quake 3, which is one of the few things the P4 is really good at. Refreshing (I couldn’t care less about Quake scores, and I know I’m not alone on that) but ironic.

Congratulations to a fellow Missourian. I don’t like to talk politics much here, but… My fellow Missourian John Ashcroft is the new attorney general. Appropriately, the supposed racist was sworn in by Clarence Thomas.

As for the “Missouri fired him” rhetoric, here’s the truth on that: John Ashcroft and Mel Carnahan were the two most popular governors of recent memory. Were it not for term limits, Ashcroft would probably still be governor. Ashcroft and Carnahan were locked in a too-close-to-call race up until the point when Carnahan died in a plane crash. Carnahan then attained sainthood and won the election on a sympathy vote. Possible voter fraud in the city of St. Louis didn’t help matters any. But Ashcroft is a class act, so he didn’t contest the election, either on grounds of fraud or on grounds that a senator must be a citizen, and a dead man can’t be a citizen. Carnahan’s widow was then appointed to the Senate.

Teddy Kennedy threatened to filibuster Ashcroft, because he didn’t like Ashcroft’s conservatism. Never mind Ashcroft knows what the law is, and one of the tenets of his so-objectionable religion is that you obey and you uphold your government’s laws–no government exists without God’s allowing it to exist, according to John Ashcroft’s religion and mine. John Ashcroft is responsible to God to do his job, and to do it properly. His job is not to do Congress’ job. John Ashcroft knows this.

John Ashcroft, unlike most of his predecessors, has actually been an attorney general before. It was the post he held in Missouri before he was elected governor. John Ashcroft will do no less to uphold the law than his predecessor Janet Reno. If ever there was an honest and decent man, it’s John Ashcroft.

Jean Carnahan voted against Ashcroft. She said it was a matter of conscience. Really, what she was saying was John Ashcroft is too different politically from her dead husband.

John Ashcroft’s very different from her dead husband in another way too.

John Ashcroft suspended campaigning when his opponent, Mel Carnahan, was killed. It was a matter of conscience. It cost him the election. At the time he suspended campaigning, he said he didn’t care, whatever the cost–it was the right thing to do. That’s the kind of man John Ashcroft is. He does the right thing, whatever the cost.

John Ashcroft was good for Missouri. Now he’ll be good for the United States.

01/31/2001

Mailbag:

Music, HD, Linux modem

Sick. Something you’ll (hopefully) never see: DefragCam. I can blame one of my twisted coworkers for that idea.

A sad referrer showed up in my logs yesterday. It was a search request, from Hotbot, on the string, “I’ve never had a girlfriend.” I’m pretty sure that phrase appears as part of a sentence in Are we talking about more than just sunsets? but as part of a phrase. I seem to remember writing, “I’ve never had a girlfriend outside the winter months,” or something like that. I have no way of knowing where that request came from. Probably a bored, lonely teenager. More people have never had a girlfriend than anyone’s willing to admit. Including a majority of teenagers.

It’s only a problem if you let it be one. Unfortunately a lot of people do, and that makes them vulnerable to all sorts of scum, like advertisers and fringe religious fanatics and seedy individuals, all promising things they can’t or won’t deliver.

Not that I’m much of an advice-giver (unless you’ve got a slow computer, then I’m pretty good), but the best suggestion I’ve got is to find something you’re good at. Lose yourself in that. If you’re not good at anything, find something you enjoy and lose yourself in it. You’ll get good at it. That alleviates the boredom, and it builds confidence, which makes you good at other things. Does it make girls notice you? Only indirectly. But it’s better to be a winner who only occasionally has girlfriends (and remember, ideally you should only be in a successful relationship once anyway) than to be a loser who always has a girl.

I hate to sound callous, but given the choice between having a book published to my name, or having any of my ex-girlfriends back, I’d choose the book. I wouldn’t even hesitate. When I find a girl who’s cooler than writing magazine articles, and she thinks I’m pretty cool too, then I’ll know it’s time to settle down.

I guess that’s the other good thing about losing yourself in other interests. If a girl starts hanging around who’s more interesting than those things, great. If she’s not, that’s your subconscious mind’s way of telling you to keep looking.

A new way to benchmark. Finally, there’s a multitasking-oriented benchmark, available from www.csaresearch.com . Keep an eye on these guys. I didn’t use any benchmarks in Optimizing Windows, because they don’t reflect real-world performance and they generally test your hardware, not the operating system as it stands on your machine. This benchmark uses new methods that try to take multitasking into account, so it will do a better job of reflecting how a system feels. It was like I was telling my sister yesterday. If I put two computers in front of her, she doesn’t care which one puts up better numbers. She knows which one’s faster. But with a lot of the benchmarks today, the faster machine doesn’t put up the best numbers. Or a PC might put up numbers that appear to kill another, but when you sit down to use the two, you can’t tell a difference.

Time for a review. I’ve been so critical of reviews lately I decided to try my hand at writing one myself, to see if I’ve still got what it takes.

Linksys Etherfast Cable/DSL Router

Broadband Internet connections are increasingly common, and it’s hard for a single PC to use up all the available bandwidth. Plus, more and more homes have multiple PCs, and it’s a shame to spend $50 a month for Internet access and limit its use to a single PC. A number of third-party programs for sharing an Internet connection exist, and recenolution. These devices are about the size of a hub, plug into your cable/DSL modem, have a built-in firewall, and include one or more ports. You can plug your PCs into these ports and/or plug in a hub or switch so you can support a larger number of PCs. Another advantage of a standalone router is additional security against hackers. A Unix box can be very secure, but if a hacker does get into it, he can do a lot of unpleasant things, to you or to someone else (but make it look like you’re the one doing it). A hacker can’t do much to a router besides mess up its configuration. You can reset it and reconfigure it in five minutes. So the security of one of these devices is very tough to beat.

One of the most popular standalone cable/DSL routers is the Linksys BEFSR41, also known simply as the EtherFast Cable/DSL Router. It’s widely available for around $150. The best price I could find on it was $131. I tested the 4-port version. A 1-port and 8-port version is also available. The 1-port version is less expensive but requires a separate hub or switch. If you already have one of those, you can save some money, but the 4- or 8-port version is ideal since it includes a built-in switch. I have an 8-port dual 10/100 hub; the Linksys router therefore gives me three additional higher-speed network ports, since switches are faster than hubs. Most people will probably want the 4- or 8-port version, because it’s easy to get spoiled really quickly by a 100-megabit switched Ethernet LAN.

Configuration is wickedly easy. Plug it into your cable/DSL modem, plug a computer into it, turn all of it on, configure the PC for DHCP if it isn’t already, then open a Web browser and go to http://192.168.1.1 . Feed it the factory password (which is undoubtedly documented all over the Web, but I won’t document it here as well), then make the changes you need. Most people won’t have to do any configuration other than changing the configuration password. If you want to put it on a different subnet, do it, then run winipcfg, push the release all button, then the renew all button, reconnect to the router, and make other changes if need be.

Administration is easy too. Just connect to the router via its Web interface, and click on the Status tab. You instantly get your network status. If your ISP drops your connection, hit the Release, then the Renew button. From the DHCP tab, you can tell the router how many clients to support. You can go to the advanced tab to configure port forwarding or a DMZ if you want such a thing–most of us won’t.

The only thing I had difficulty doing was upgrading the firmware from the browser interface. The router must not have liked the version of IE I was using. However, nothing stops you from downloading and running the firmware upgrade directly–as long as you’ve got a Windows box handy. Mac and Linux users may have problems there. Firmware updates seem to come every couple of months.

The firewall built into the router is unable to pass Steve Gibson’s LeakTest, but all hardware routers have this weakness–it’s virtually impossible for a hardware router to tell the difference between innocent traffic and malicious traffic caused by a Trojan Horse. However, the router passes ShieldsUp! ( www.grc.com ) with flying colors.

The speed of the connection is certainly acceptable; with me running a caching nameserver on the Linux box it replaced that machine should be able to outperform any standalone router any time. Of course this is purely subjective; the speed of the Internet changes constantly. Nothing stops me from running a caching nameserver behind this router, which will help performance significantly. Local network performance on the built-in 10/100 switch is outstanding.

Appearance-wise, it’s a solid product, made of two-tone blue and black plastic but it’s not cheap plastic. Styling is modern but tasteful–no wild colors or translucent parts. It has indicator lights up front, a reset switch up front, and ports in the back. It also has built-in legs, so presumably it’s stackable with other Linksys hardware (I don’t have any Linksys switches or hubs, so I can’t check that).

The only flaw I can really find with this router is that the MAC address can’t be changed. Some ISPs authenticate against the card’s MAC address, which allows them to control how you connect to them. It also prevents you from using this type of device. Some competing routers allow you to change their MAC address, so they can spoof that card and get around the limitation.

I read of problems using it with services that use PPPoE (PPP over Ethernet). My service doesn’t, so I can’t test this. Buyer beware.

I was disappointed that the 45-page manual didn’t have an index, but it had a lot of nice information in it, such as pinouts for Ethernet cables. It’s written in clear, plain and straightforward English. Manuals of this length and quality are rare these days.

I think it’s a decent product, but for my purposes I want something else. I don’t want something so easy to reset to factory defaults and configure. Why? It’s getting corporate use, and I want it to be complex enough to scare people away. I want the user interface of an HP LaserJet printer control panel. It’s a pain to configure, so therefore end-users don’t mess with it. I’m not sure if I’ll find such a beast, but you bet I’ll look for it.

Mailbag:

Music, HD, Linux modem

01/21/2001

Mailbag:

Win-Mac; IQ; Networking; Mobos

Run OptOut! I was talking today to a good friend who lives a couple of hours away. About a year ago he helped me straighten out–I looked like I was doing all the right things and avoiding the wrong things. I wasn’t drinking, wasn’t womanizing, and on the outside looked like I had everything together, but inside… Nope. He helped me get through it, and the year turned out to be nothing like I had planned, but that’s for the better I think.

But anyway, his computer was anything but better. He’d gone on an upgrade binge, buying memory and a big hard drive, and his system was as stable afterward as most celebrity marriages. So I walked him through reinstalling Windows, running msconfig and eliminating all but the minimal requirements in startup, and though that improved it wasn’t perfect. So I had him run OptOut, from www.grc.com . I ran it on my system at the same time so I could guide him through it. He found no spyware. I found 22 instances. Huh!? I’m normally much more careful than that. But that probably explains the IE crashes I’ve been getting. So I got rid of the spyware.

Do yourself a favor. Go download and run OptOut and see what you find.

More adventures in Linux Gatewayland. I spent another good chunk of the day at Gatermann’s, trying to get his Linux box running. We went ahead and installed a hard drive and an old 8X IDE CD-ROM. I installed a minimal Mandrake 7.2. Mandrake, like the single-floppy distro I’d tried, had problems. The NICs were inconsistent, giving different values when you booted. I don’t like the sound of that. I’m pretty sure I’ve got an old socket 7 board around here somewhere I can swap him, so I’m going to try another board. I’ve got some different NICs too. In the meantime, he’s going to put that drive and his cards in his K6-2 and see what happens. That ought to eliminate the cards themselves as a culprit. If that does the trick, I’ll either give him a different board or I’ll give him the 486 that’s served me well for the past year or so, since I’ll soon be getting a Linksys router. (And that’ll open up a spot on my desk and on my KVM for my out-of-retirement PC/AT. Woo hoo!)

Speaking of the PC/AT, the board doesn’t fit. Well, I can cram my new Soyo board into my ancient PC/AT case, but I won’t get memory in there with it. One of the drive bays sits too low, so there’s no clearance. So, it’s hacksaw time. Don’t try this at home, kids. That’ll eliminate any collectible value that case ever would have had, but with the motherboard, disk controller, and hard drive long gone and the serial number ripped off the back of the case by the previous owner, it probably never would have had any anyway. So I’ll be redefining the word “hacking” as it applies to this computer very soon. I’ve got some time. The CPUs that’ll free up a pair of Celeron 366s won’t arrive until Friday.

Mailbag:

Win-Mac; IQ; Networking; Mobos