Don’t try this at home

“What you got in that system?”
“An 850.”

“Oh. 850 MHz isn’t too bad these days.”

“No, the CPU’s a 750. The hard drive’s an 850.”

“Where’d you get an 850-gig drive?”

“Who said anything about gigs?”

Yeah, I put a computer together this week. I had problems with the hard drive. Bad problems. Like Windows won’t load anymore and it coughs up a hairball when I try to reformat the disk. Yeah. Bad news. So I sent in a clunky old Seagate 850-meg drive off the bench. Hey, I wanted to play Railroad Tycoon, alright?

Along the way I recalled a few tricks.

FORMAT C: /Q /U /AUTOTEST formats a hard drive as quickly as possible, no questions asked and none of that aggravating “saving unformat information” that takes a week and doesn’t work when you want to unformat the drive anyway.

FORMAT C: /U /AUTOTEST does an unconditional, no-questions-asked long format, but still faster than plain old format without switches.

But if you want to get a drive up and running really fast, use the GDISK utility that comes with Ghost (if you don’t have Ghost, you may be able to find an old version of GDISK online if you look hard enough, because at one time it was freely distributable):

GDISK 1 /MBR /WIPE will quickly delete all the partitions on a disk.
GDISK 1 /CRE /PRI /FOR /Q will create and format a single FAT32 partition so fast you’ll wonder what’s wrong with Microsoft. Reboot and you’re ready to rock’n’roll.

Well, as much as an 850 will let you rock’n’roll, that is. Which ain’t much. But I know I’ve got a decent hard drive around here somewhere. So I think I’ll go find it. I’ve had enough of this insanity.

And I still haven’t gotten in my game of Railtycoon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ghosts from the past…

Wednesday night, 6:35 PM: I was in my South St. Louis County apartment, getting ready for church, when my phone rang. I’d had at least one telemarketing call that night already, but I picked up the phone anyway.
“Hello?” I said, maybe slightly agitated.

“Dave?” a female voice asked. So much for a telemarketer. I recognized the voice but didn’t place it immediately. And obviously she knew me.

“Yes?”

“It’s Wendy.” Ah, Wendy from church. OK.

“What’s up?” I asked. She doesn’t routinely call me–she doesn’t routinely call anyone, I don’t think–so I figured she probably needed something. That’s OK. I take care of my friends.

“What’s it mean when your computer says, ‘Bad or missing command interpreter. Enter path of a valid command interpreter, e.g. c:windowscommand.com’?”

“Oh. That means one of the files your computer needs to get started is blitzed,” I said. “What happens if you type it?”

“You’re gonna hate me,” she said as she typed the filename. “You deal with this stuff all day and now I call you wanting computer advice.”

I could never hate her. She’s too nice. Besides, guys like fixing things, especially for people they like. I probably should have told her that.

“It just repeats the same thing again,” she said.

“I see.” I had her try a couple of other locations–Microsoft OSs have always installed command.com in too many places. But no go.

“Are my other files OK?”

“Hopefully,” I said. “My computer used to do this to me once a year.”

“My whole life is on this computer, Dave,” she said, sounding a little distressed. My heart melted. I hate it when bad things happen to good people. I especially hate it when bad things happen to good people and one of Bill Gates’ or Steve Jobs’ toy operating systems is involved. But sometimes it’s just a minor inconvenience. I hoped this was one of those instances.

“I just need to boot your computer off a floppy, type a command or two, and it’ll probably come right back to life,” I said.

“Do you have time to do this? I mean, really have time to do this?” She didn’t want to inconvenience me.

“Yeah, I’m on my way to church, and you’re on the way, and it should only take me a couple of minutes,” I said as I formatted a disk and copied sys.com to it.

After assuring her again that I was sure, I told her I’d be there in about 10 minutes. I hopped in my car, disk in hand, ready to go be a hero and still make it to church on time. I rang her bell, heard her dog scream bloody murder, and she opened the door. As soon as she let me in, her Labrador warmed up to me. She led me to the computer room, where I sat down and popped in a disk. She yanked on her Lab’s leash, trying to keep her away from me. She wasn’t having much luck.

“That’s OK,” I said to Wendy. “I like dogs.” Then I turned to the dog and started scratching behind her ears. “I’ll bet the most dangerous part of you is your tail. You just like people so much you thump ’em to death, don’t you?” I turned to the computer and booted off the floppy. It didn’t work. So I restarted, and when it asked for a command interpreter, I typed “a:command.com” and got a command prompt. Meanwhile, her dog grabbed onto my hand with her paw so I wouldn’t go anywhere. Shadow, the Cocker Spaniel/Irish Setter mix I had growing up, used to do that.

I ran sys.com and rebooted, expecting to be a hero. Instead, I got the dreaded invalid media type reading drive C error.

I told Wendy I’d need the heavy artillery to fix this problem. I kicked myself for not bringing any more sophisticated tools like MBRWORK. It looked like a blitzed partition table to me.

I rebooted a couple more times to try to get symptoms. The Windows logo splashed up ever so briefly. The drive didn’t make any weird noises. That was good. That meant the boot record was intact, and that some data was intact–obviously, because it was reading the Windows logo. It looked just like the time my Pentium-75 crashed and forced me to cycle power, then didn’t come back up. I didn’t know how to fix a blitzed partition table then. But that was a long time ago.

By now, it was 7:20. “I can go get some more tools,” I offered.

“Go to church,” she said. “I’d feel really bad if you miss church. Tell Pastor John it’s my fault.”

I did my best to reassure her that I could get her data back. I told her the odds looked like about 50/50. In reality I was more confident than that, but unless I’m about 99% certain, I won’t say the chances are any better than 50/50. There’s nothing I hate more than disappointing people.

I went to church mad at myself that I hadn’t gotten her data back. I came home from church, got ready to gather up my tools, and checked my messages. It was Wendy. She said she’d gone to school to work on a paper, that we’d worry about the computer tomorrow but it wasn’t a big deal.

Maybe it wasn’t to her. But it was to me. I hate losing, especially to a computer. I have since I was in first grade and played Atari at my neighbors’ house. True, back then I got mad when I lost at Donkey Kong, but in my mind there’s no difference. Even though it’s a different game today and I lost a lot then and I rarely lose now, it doesn’t make me hate losing any less. Especially when I’m playing with other people’s stuff. Her words echoed in my mind: “My whole life is on this computer, Dave.”

I wasn’t going to let her down. I wasn’t going to let myself down by letting her down. I was going to get that data back, and I didn’t care what I had to do to get it.

I called her back, expecting her not to be there. Her mom, Debby, answered the phone. She gave me a few more clues, told me she didn’t expect Wendy home until late, said one or the other of them would be home about 3:30 the next day. I’d been at work until close to six on Wednesday and saw the possibility of having to stay that late on Thursday. I didn’t make any hard and fast promises about when I’d be there, but I started plotting how I would escape work by 4:15.

On Thursday, I loaded up floppies containing all the standard Microsoft disk tools, plus Norton Disk Doctor, plus Spinrite, plus MBRWORK and a few other partition recovery tools, along with a Windows 98 CD, and took the whole wodge of stuff to work. At 4:20, I called. Debby answered. I told her I was leaving work and I’d probably get there in about 20 minutes.

Along the way, I listened to a bunch of punk rock, really loud, and got myself pumped up. Whether it’s stepping up to the plate in the bottom of the seventh with runners on second and third and two out, or just a tricky computer problem, I get myself into the same mental place. The world fades away and I see nothing but the challenge. By the time I got to their house, I was in the zone. I was so in the zone that I walked up to the front door of the wrong house. Wendy’s Lab was in the front yard giving me the “I know you! What are you doing over there? Get over here and pet me!” look. I didn’t notice. The neighbor pointed next door. Feeling stupid, I walked over. The dog congratulated me on getting smart, Debby greeted me, and I went another round with her computer, running MBRWORK. It recovered the partition successfully, it said. I got excited. I rebooted and the computer asked me for a command interpreter again.

Cantankerous computer 2, Dave 0.

I went home, fixed myself a little something to eat, pondered the situation, and wrote my Bible study for Friday night on my company laptop. That calmed me down enough to let me think rationally again. I packed up everything I could possibly need: Norton AntiVirus, Ghost, an extra hard drive, two laptops, a couple of Linux CDs, both versions of Windows 98, utilities disks…

I booted off my disks and tried a few things. Nothing. I booted my company laptop up with the disks–that laptop doesn’t have DOS installed–and added a couple more toys. They didn’t help. Wendy got home and asked if it was a bad sign I was there. I muttered something and probably came off as rude. I was in the zone, after all. I asked her if she had any floppies she wanted me to scan for viruses. She handed me one, and I tried to boot my laptop into Windows. It showed the very same symptoms as her computer.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Virus writers, PLEASE get a life. Get interested in girls or something. Anything!

Wendy didn’t like the look on my face. I told her what happened. She said a phrase I won’t repeat here, then apologized. There was no need. I felt like saying it too. Or something worse.

For grins, I tried booting the laptop into Linux. It booted up like it was cool. Hmm. Boot sector viruses that kill Windows dead don’t even make Linux flinch. I owe Linus Torvalds a beer.

I tried mounting my main Windows partition. Linux reported NTFS errors. Visions of virus writers getting beaten to a bloody pulp danced in my mind.

Since I was now convinced we were dealing with a boot sector virus, I replaced the MBR. No joy. I booted off a Linux CD, switched over to a console, ran cfdisk, and viewed the partition table. One 4-gig partition, FAT32. No problems. Odd.

Wendy started fretting. “You’ve spent all this time and you’ve lost your laptop. I’m about to start to cry.”

I stopped what I was doing, turned to her, and looked her straight in the eye. “I take care of my friends.”

She looked back at me like she thought that was kind of cool.

“I don’t care about the laptop. I can fix that later. I can rewrite the Bible study that was on it. It took me 20 minutes to write, so it’ll take me 15 minutes to rewrite. I’m going to get your data back.”

The Bible study I lost indeed took me about 15 minutes to rewrite, and the second version was a lot better. But I didn’t get her data back that night. Eventually I gave up, pulled her drive, installed a new drive, and installed Windows and Office on it so they’d have a computer that was useful for something. Debby walked in as I was switching drives, noticed the dust inside the case, and gave it a disgusted look. She came back with a rag and Wendy started laughing at her.

“She can’t stand dust anywhere. I guess not even inside electronics,” Wendy said.

Debby lit up when she walked in the room and saw the Windows 98 screen on her computer. Later when Wendy walked back in, she let out a whoop and told her mom she was missing beautiful things in the computer room. I was pretty happy about it too. Windows 98 didn’t install easily–the intial reboot failed and installation didn’t continue until I booted it in safe mode, then rebooted. I gave the computer a lecture as I booted it, reminding it that I have enough spare parts at home to build a computer like it and would have no qualms about destroying it and replacing it with something else. I know it didn’t hear or understand a word I said, but I felt better afterward.

I felt bad about not getting the data back that night. Wendy and I talked for about 45 minutes about other things. I felt better afterward. I forgot to thank her. Around midnight, I packed up the stuff and drove home.

Wendy and I talked the next day over e-mail. I’d taken my disks to work and scanned them on a non-networked PC nobody cared about and found the Form virus. Wendy had taken some disks to school and had them scanned. They contained both Form and antiCMOS. Since antiCMOS resides in the MBR and Form resides on the primary partition, the two viruses can coexist. Form was relatively harmless on FAT16 drives, and although antiCMOS was potentially destructive in 1991, it’s much less so now that PCs autodetect hard drives at boot rather than relying on parameters stored in CMOS. My work the night before would have eliminated antiCMOS, which explained why it wasn’t present on my disks. I did a Dejanews search on Form and FAT32, to see if that would explain the apparent partition corruption. I found that the symptoms were exactly what Wendy was showing. And I found recovery methods that had a high success rate.

I haven’t put Wendy’s drive in one of my PCs yet to recover it. But I’m pretty confident I’ll get her data back. That’s a good thing. I’ve met nicer people than Wendy and Debby. But only once or twice. People like them don’t come around very often, so I’d like to do something nice for them.

Bringing their data back from oblivion would do.

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.

Finding an open-source alternative to Ghost

Finding an open-source alternative to Ghost. Have I mentioned lately just how pathetic a software company Symantec is? Norton Utilities is adequate, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t think I’d put Norton AntiVirus on any computer that I wanted to work right. I’d give you my opinion of McAfee’s product, but that’s a violation of the license agreement, so I’ll give you my opinion of the company instead. They’d rather spend their time and money and energy keeping you from talking about their products than they would making them worth buying.
So, anyway. Since Symantec is making my life difficult, why do we keep rewarding them by buying Ghost licenses over and over again?

Knowing that the Unix command dd if=/dev/hda of=[filename] makes a bit-for-bit copy of a hard drive, I sought to utilize the Linux kernel and dd as an alternative. Pipe it through bzip2 and it’d be great, right?

Uh, no. I imaged a 1.6-gig HD that had about 400 MB in use. About an hour later, I had a 900 MB disk image. This is bad. Very bad. Ghost would have given me a 250-300 MB image in 15 minutes.

But then I stumbled across PartImage, which does an intelligent, files-only disk image like Ghost does. It’s fast, it’s small, it works. NTFS support is experimental, but as long as you defragment your drive before you try to make an image, it seems to do fine.

However, it doesn’t do a full disk clone like Ghost does. Not yet, at least. Not on its own, at least. But this is Unix. Where there’s a will, there are 47 ways.

First, dump your partition table: sfdisk -d /dev/hda > table

Next, get your MBR: dd if=/dev/hda of=mbr bs=512 count=1

Yes, Eagle Eye, dd does grab your partition table. But restoring the table with DD will only get your primary partition(s). It won’t get your extended partitions, so that’s why sfdisk is necessary.

Now that we’ve got that detail out of the way, you can use PartImage to create images of all your disk partitions. It’s menu driven like Ghost. It’s text mode and not graphics-mode, so it’s not as pretty, but it’s also a fraction of the size.

Got your files made? Great. Now, to make the clone, you reverse it.

Write out the MBR: dd if=mbr of=/dev/hda bs=512 count=1

Re-create your partition layout: sfdisk /dev/hda

Then restore your partitions, one at a time, using PartImage either in interactive mode or with command-line switches.

It's a lot to remember, so the best bet would be to dump the images plus these two small files to a CD, make a Linux boot floppy containing dd, sfdisk, and partimage, and write a shell script that does it all. Then you can think about getting fancy and making a bootable CD that holds all of it and restores a system lickety-split.

A lot of trouble? Ugh. Yeah. Worth it? Probably. Ghost licenses aren't cheap, and PartImage has the potential to be a whole lot quicker, since it's built on a better foundation. Today's PCs are extremely powerful, and DOS has been underutilizing PCs' power since the introduction of the PC/AT in 1985. Linux will very happily scale up to whatever amount of memory and CPU power your PC has under the hood, making compression and decompression go faster. And if you do a little tweaking with hdparam before creating and before restoring (again, a good job for a shell script), you'll get far better disk throughput than DOS could ever give you. On these P3-866s, I found PartImage was a good 20-60 MB/minute faster than Ghost.

So this is not only faster, it also frees you from the difficulty of keeping track of Ghost licenses, which is a hidden administrative expense. With Linux and PartImage and the associated tools, you're free to use them as you like. The only questions anyone will ask is, "How'd you do that?"

That's not to say I have any objection to paying for a good product, but when you can't even buy a site license to escape the paperwork, it gets ridiculous. I suspect some companies just count their PCs and buy that many Ghost licenses once a year in order to be rid of the administrative overhead.

So I think it's more than worth it to figure out how to effectively do this job with open-source tools.

Of course I've left some questions. How do you make Linux boot floppies? How do you make Linux CDs? The PartImage site has images of bootdisks and boot CDs, but they don't have everything you need. Notably, sfdisk is missing from those images. And obviously you'd have to write your shell scripts and add those yourself.

I'll let you know when I figure it out. I'm pretty darn close.

SPAM from Macromedia regarding Flash; Neatgear NICs; Crash course

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any suggestions?

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

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

Hello Dave,

Oh. Now I feel stupid for bothering you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks again,

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

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

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

“You sound bitter.”

“No, just practical.”

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

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

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

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

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

Is there anything else I could be missing??

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

Regards

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

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