Robert Rayford (Robert R): AIDS in St. Louis in the 1960s

Robert Rayford (Robert R): AIDS in St. Louis in the 1960s

The sad story of Robert Rayford (aka Robert R), the first documented victim of HIV/AIDS in the United States, shows that if timing had been a little bit different, the AIDS epidemic could have happened a decade earlier than it did, and its epicenter could have been St. Louis instead of New York. His story raises some uncomfortable questions. How did HIV end up in St. Louis, of all places? And why did it stay local to St. Louis rather than becoming an epidemic?

His story made me uncomfortable, and sometimes that’s how I know it’s time to dig in a bit more.

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Does your spouse know who your collecting buddies are?

The story of the 1967 train layout and stash brought up a couple of good questions, even as more facts failed to emerge. If something were to happen to you, would your spouse know how to deal with the collection you’ve left behind?

I think it’s a valid question, and not just for trains.
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The CP/M-DOS forensics don’t prove much

I saw the headline on Slashdot: Forensic evidence trying to prove whether MS-DOS contained code lifted from CP/M. That got my attention, as the connection between MS-DOS and its predecessor, CP/M, is one of the great unsolved mysteries of computing.

Unfortunately, the forensic evidence doesn’t prove a lot.

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Good news for Marx train enthusiasts

Kalmbach has decided, after more than a decade, to release a new Greenberg Pocket Price Guide for Marx trains (here’s my review). Although the O’Brien Collecting Toy Trains guides have a section on Marx, the Greenberg guides have always been more complete and more accurate. The most recent O’Brien guide from 2006 completely omitted Marx’s 3/16 line, a difficult flaw to overlook. That’s why the out-of-print Greenberg book from 2001 remained the standard for all these years and in recent years used copies commanded prices of $100 and more.
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Windows potpourri

I’ll give some random Windows tips tonight, since it’s getting late and I don’t really want to think. So here’s some stuff I’ve been putting off. So let’s talk utilities and troubleshooting.
Utilities first. Utilities are more fun. So let’s talk about a pair of reader submissions, from Bryan Welch.

Proxomitron. Bryan wondered if I’d ever heard of it because I’d never mentioned it. I’m sure I mentioned it on my page at editthispage.com because I ran Proxomitron for a couple of years. Proxomitron is a freeware proxy server that blocks ads, Javascript, cookies, and just about anything else undesirable. I’ve found that these days I get everything I need from Mozilla–it blocks popups just fine, and I can right-click and pick “Block images from this server” when I run across an objectionable ad, and of course I have GIF animation turned off and Flash not installed. That works for me, and it saves me memory and CPU time.

But if you want more than Mozilla gives you off the shelf, Proxomitron will give it to you. I used to recommend it wholeheartedly. I haven’t looked at a recent version of it but I’d be shocked if it’s changed much. If any of that interests you, I’m sure you’ve already run off to download it. It runs on any version of Windows from Win95 on.

98lite. Most of my readers run Windows 2000 or XP at this point, but about 20% of you are still running Win98 or WinMe. If you want to get a little extra speed, download and run 98lite to remove Internet Explorer and other not-quite-optional-but-mostly-useless cruft. It’s been pretty well established that Windows 9x runs 20-25% faster with IE gone. That’s more improvement than you’ll get from overclocking your CPU. Or from any single hardware upgrade, in most cases.

If you need IE, 98lite can still help you–it can break the desktop integration and speed things up for you, just not as much.

If you’re still running 98, I highly recommend it. How much so? When I was writing Optimizing Windows, Shane Brooks probably would have given me a copy of it, on the theory that its mention in a book would cause at least sales he wouldn’t get otherwise. I mentioned it (I think I dedicated half a chapter to it), but I didn’t ask him for one. I registered the thing. If I liked it enough to pay for it when I probably didn’t have to, that ought to say something.

Troubleshooting. Let’s talk about troubleshooting Windows 2000 and XP.

Weird BSODs in Premiere under Windows 2000. I haven’t completely figured out the pattern yet, but my video editing computer gets really unstable when the disk gets jammed. A power play at church forced me to “fork” my new video–my church gets its edited, censored, changed-for-the-sake-of-change version (pick one) while everyone else gets the slightly longer how-the-guy-with-the-journalism-degree-intended-it version. Re-saving a second project filled up nearly all available disk space and the machine started bluescreening left and right. After I’d done some cleanup last week and freed up over a gig on all my drives, and then defragmented, it had been rock solid.

So if you run Premiere and it seems less than stable, try freeing up some disk space and defragmenting. It seems to be a whole lot more picky than any other app I’ve ever seen. I suspect it’s Premiere that’s picky about disk space and one or more of the video codecs that’s picky about fragmentation. But if you’re like me, you don’t really care which of them is causing the BSODs, you just want it to stop.

Spontaneous, continuous Explorer crashes in Windows 2000. Yeah, the same machine was doing that too. I finally traced the problem to a corrupt file on my desktop. I don’t know which file. I found a mysterious file called settings.ini or something similar. I don’t know if deleting that was what got me going again or if it was some other file. But if Explorer keeps killing itself off on you and restarting and you can’t figure out why, try opening a command prompt, CD’ing to your desktop, and deleting everything you find. (I found I had the same problem if I opened the desktop directory window in Explorer while logged on as a different user, which was how I stumbled across the command line trick.)

I can’t say I’ve ever seen this kind of behavior before. First I thought I had a virus. Then I thought I had a corrupt system file somewhere. I’m glad the problem turned out to have a simple cure, but I wish I’d found that out before I did that reinstall and that lengthy virus scan…

Defragging jammed drives in Windows 2000 and XP. If you don’t have 15% free space available to Defrag (and how it defines “available” seems to be one of the great mysteries of the 21st century), it’ll complain and not do as good of a job as it should. In a pinch, run it anyway. Then run it again. Often, the available free space will climb slightly. You’ll probably never get the drive completely defragmented but you should be able to improve it at least slightly.

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