How thousands of Atari cartridges ended up in the desert

The famous story of Atari burying millions of dollars of unsold videogame cartridges, including the infamous E.T. cartridge, is no longer just a legend–it’s been confirmed.

How they got there was mostly a misunderstanding of the nascent business. Read more

Dave, have you seen this classmate?

This is a companion piece to Ken Floro’s The Southside Cavaliers vs. Vanishing Tom. I’m trying my best to write in someone else’s style and not get my keyboard (among other things) handed to me. In Ken’s story, I’m Hacker Dave.

I accidentally spent my 16th birthday with Vanishing Tom. We both attended a school-sponsored seminar on a Saturday, which happened to be my birthday. The subject was something about achieving your potential. Everyone else present was a football player or basketball player or cheerleader. Tom and I were the only people there without an athletic connection.

“I need an attitude adjustment,” Tom announced when he saw me, making no effort at enthusiasm.

Ah, we were both there for the same thing. I can’t speak for Tom, but I was surprised that everyone there accepted both of us for a few hours that Saturday. But come Monday we were just Tom and Dave again, same as we ever were. I never heard anyone mention that Saturday again. Read more

Paul Allen’s tearing into Gates seems familiar

You’ve probably heard by now about Vanity Fair publishing an excerpt from Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen’s autobiography,  which doesn’t give the most flattering portrayal of Bill Gates, his former business partner.

I’ve heard most of these stories before, though I’m trying to figure out where. What surprises me is the people who are acting like this stuff came out of the blue. If I’ve heard most of this stuff before, then so have a lot of people.
Read more

How the other half lives

Steve DeLassus e-mailed me with a computer question. I think he just wanted someone to confirm whether his reaction was right. And it really got me thinking hard.
Friday night after work, I drove up to north St. Louis to help out an acquaintance with a computer problem. For those of you not familiar with St. Louis, north St. Louis ain’t Beverly Hills. It’s not East St. Louis, but I’ll just say this and move on. In my neighborhood, it’s very rare to find a house for $165,000. If you do, it’ll be a one-story. If it has any kind of a yard, it’ll be a two-bedroom house. If it doesn’t have much yard, it’ll be a three-bedroom. In north St. Louis, for $165,000 you can buy an entire city block.

I went up there to install a USB card in her system so she could use her new multifunction printer. She’s a teacher, and she’s taking correspondence courses to get her doctorate, so she needs to be able to send and receive faxes.

The computer is an old Cyrix. I didn’t pay much attention to the clock speed. It runs Windows 98, which means she bought it in 1997 or 1998. It’s adequate for what she does, which is mostly word processing. She told me flat out that the chair I was sitting on cost her $10 at a nearby second-hand store. That’s where she gets all her furniture, she said. She obviously has a good eye, because her stuff matches pretty well. Her desk was $35 in a package deal. She bought it off someone who was moving.

I didn’t really feel sorry for her. I admired her, in reality. Spending her money wisely like that, she won’t have to shop like that much longer unless she chooses to. She may choose to. She may choose to teach in an area that won’t pay her enough to ever afford anything else. But she’ll be doing it for the reward of knowing she’s doing something to make a difference.

I installed the card and left the case open in case anything went wrong. I booted the system, then Windows found the card and dutifully loaded a driver for it. Then I plugged in the printer. It recognized the printer and asked for a driver. I fed it a driver and printed a test page. It worked fine. I was happy.

I closed the case back up. I booted up again and configured the device’s fax subsystem. She told me she paid $1,000 for this computer (complete) at a time when the best price she could find on anything in a store was $1,500. She was glad you can get something now for $799. She wasn’t angry or bitter about it; she was happy that the people buying a computer today didn’t have to stretch their budgets as much as she had to.

I told her that even if a person had as little as $200 to spend, they can get something these days. It’ll be used, but it’ll be something. She was glad to hear it. Even in America, where everybody’s supposedly rich, there are people who can’t afford anything more than a $200 computer.

I remember now when I was in Farmington, New Mexico, back in 1999 or 2000. I went in to a used computer store down there, and in addition to new systems, they also were selling used systems. I saw a 386SX powered on in a corner, running DOS. It had 4 megs of RAM and a 40-meg hard drive. The price on it was $100. Of course, a faster 386 or a 486 cost a bit more. I saw someone buy one while I was there. I was shocked, because in south St. Louis–most of St. Louis, for that matter–you couldn’t give those kinds of computers away, let alone get somone to give you a hundred bucks for it.

Meanwhile I listen to spoiled yuppies complaining about how anything less than 1 GHz isn’t a real computer.

It makes me sick.

Western spirituality isn’t as elusive as it may seem

And it’s Monday. I know what I talked about last Monday. This is gonna be kind of similar. I read Jonathan Sturm yesterday and he got me thinking. Jonathan linked to this great story, which Dan Bowman pointed me to late last week. But before the link, Jonathan said something else:
I think many of us want to think about the spiritual aspects of our lives and enjoy being able to do so. The problem is, when we seek such at the accepted fountain of spirituality in the west, it’s at church. Instead of enlightening stories, we get lectured at for our sins. And harangued for our money. Not much fun at all. So when we find someone witty, amusing and spiritual, we go weak at the knees.

To this, I want to say two things. First, if you feel harangued for money when visiting a church for the first time, find another church. Or at the very least, don’t give. Never give to a church until you know what its vision and purpose is and whether you’re on board with that. The last two churches where I’ve been a member make a point of saying their offering is for their members, and if you’re a visitor, to not feel obligated to give in any way.

And before I get to that second point, let me ask a question. Why is it that every time I think I’ve brought up Kaycee for the last time, she comes back? Wait. Don’t answer that.

My second point is even more important, though I can’t imagine it being more popular than the idea that when you’re still visiting a church you shouldn’t feel obligated to give it money. If you walk into a church and you can’t feel a spirituality in it, leave. You probably need to give it more than 30 seconds, but I would certainly argue that one service is enough to figure out the degree of a church’s spirituality. Four years ago when I was a reluctant participant in anything religious, I could tell. I found myself at a non-denominational church, and it wasn’t like anything I’d ever seen. For one, the members talked to one another. I’ve seen that before, but every church I’d been at before had cliques, and this one didn’t really seem to. And the service was lively. Sure, there was a somber part where we could confess our sins to God, but it was immediately followed by reassurance of forgiveness. And the messages were practical–the pastor might as well have started off each message with, “I know you’re struggling because I’m struggling. Here’s what we all need to be doing.”

Yeah, it was weird. My mom and my sister were always more spiritual than I was.

I’ll be honest. This is gonna be really weird, because this is the first time I’ve written about this aspect of my life and I’m not sure I like it. I got to this place because I met a girl and I was interested in her. As I got to know her, I realized she had something I didn’t have, and I wanted that. And I fell for her, really hard, kind of the same way everyone fell for Kaycee. But probably even more so, because there was a real, live, face-to-face relationship going on there, with lots of time spent going places and doing stuff. And when she turned out not to be what she first appeared to be, I went into a funk that lasted a really long time.

I started getting the idea from two or three people in that church, including her, that you more or less have to earn God’s favor. My good Lutheran upbringing wouldn’t stand for that. Earning God’s favor? You might as well be selling indulgences at the back of the church at the end of the service!

Now, I don’t know that this was the official position of that church. More likely, God was using some individuals to steer me in the direction He wanted me to go. It’s funny how God works that way sometimes.

I knew what I needed, and it seemed to be the same thing God wanted for me. I needed a spiritual Lutheran church. That’s hard to find, since Lutheran services traditionally are scripted, and you know what the service on the Second Sunday of Pentecost is supposed to look like because it’ll look exactly like the service on the Second Sunday of Pentecost last year did, and Pastor will probably speak on the same topic in his sermon. I’m not saying it’s impossible to be spiritual when everything’s scripted like that, but it’s harder to listen to God’s spirit when you’re listening to a committee that met 25 or 60 years ago.

Let’s fast-forward a minute. Here’s my church’s idea of following God’s leading. Or one of them, at least. I help to lead a Bible study that meets every other Friday night. I honestly have no idea right now what we’ll be studying next Friday. I pay close attention to the questions people in the group ask, and to their prayer requests, then I look for patterns. From that, I can get a pretty good idea where they are and what they need, and it’s funny how usually the needs of the most vocal people one Friday night turn out to be what the vast majority needed on the next Friday night. So I don’t do much. I gather questions, hunt down God’s answers, and present them.

Ironically, the questions from Friday are similar to what Jonathan brought up: “When I read scripture, I start feeling bad. I feel like I’m an awful person, and I start wondering whether I’m really a Christian and whether I’m even saved. What do I do?”

The short answer to that question is to be more spiritual, so we went into Acts 2 and Romans 8 to see what a good spiritual life looks like and how to get it. The “how to get it” part is easy. Ask. Just ask.

Just ask. Seriously. That spiritual Lutheran church I wanted? I told God that it didn’t exist. But I asked for it anyway. It turned out God had spent the last couple of years before that building just such a church less than a mile from where I was living.

I was reluctant to move to St. Louis three years ago because I knew I’d miss that church. But I found another one a lot like it. God was looking out for me. More than that, I think He was getting me ready for that church, and maybe he was getting that church ready for me too.

I agree with Jonathan, what passes for the Western interpretation of God and spirituality is lacking, and that’s why so many people have been looking east for the past 40 years, hoping to find Him there. But God is here–we’re just not used to looking for Him. Maybe we’ve forgotten how to look for Him.

And maybe it’ll be hard to find a church nearby where God is alive and active. There are some books I can recommend to help tide you over. First, get a Bible. If all you’ve got is a crusty 400-year-old translation, I suggest you get another one. The whole purpose of the Reformation and counter-Reformation was to put the Bible in language the people can understand, and somewhere we’ve lost that again. Yes, the King James version is beautiful and flows well but chances are you won’t read and understand it unless you’re a scholar of English. The New Living Translation is easier to read. It takes a few liberties that I wish it wouldn’t but none of it is damning. The Message is a modern paraphrase that a lot of people like. I don’t like it so much because the original has distinctive voices–Moses’ books sound like Moses, and Paul’s books sound like Paul, and Luke’s books sound like Luke. In The Message, every book sounds like Eugene Peterson. Being a writer, I really don’t like that. But if it helps you, great. A pastor I know in New Mexico recommends the NIrV, the New International Reader’s Version. It’s written on a third-grade level, so it reads quickly and easily. If you find the Bible as difficult to read as Plato or Aristotle, get an NIrV.

If you’re looking to make all of this gobbledygook relevant, I know of no better place to look than Experiencing God, by Henry Blackaby. It’s only about 175 pages and it was written within the past decade. And if you need a pastoral figure and haven’t found one locally yet, check out Max Lucado. He’s written dozens of books, and everything I’ve read of his has been good. His chapters are short and practical.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you want what it looked like Kaycee had, you can get it.

More Like This: Christianity


Web content filtering. Sometimes you just have to filter Web content. I’m not in favor of requiring it by law, but I won’t go to the extremes that some personal liberty advocates go, who say there should be no filtering. If a company or organization is providing equipment and an Internet connection, I believe they have some right to say what that connection will be used for. It’s a question of whose rights trump whose.

At any rate, I’m doing some work with a church/school that needs some content filtering, because, well, they don’t want to become the place for people who don’t have computers of their own to come and get porn. And they’ve got jack to spend. Getting them some low-end hardware shouldn’t be a problem. But what about content filtering software?

There’s some stuff out there. — Filtering based on PICS and keywords, requires Linux and Squid. — Filtering based on URLs. Uses Squid. Blocklist updated three times a week. Automatic updating? That’s what cron is for! — Caching Web proxy.

Squid saves you bandwidth, then the other two hop on board and take advantage of its expansion capabilities and add filtering. Both are written in C or C++, which makes them much faster than solutions written in Perl.

Controversy. Chris Miller sent me a link to this commentary .

I sincerely hope the US View/European view at the end is satire.  We know Cuba isn’t bent on world domination and wouldn’t get it anyway. Castro annoys the heck out of conservatives, though some in Hollywood profess to be very fond of the man. Most conservatives see him as a totalitarian with a really big mouth that’s usually open. We don’t put guns on kids’ lunchtrays. Most conservatives believe that when you walk into a school building, you lose all constitutional rights. I don’t agree with that, but if I’m going to give a constitutional right to schoolchildren, the first amendment is much more useful to them than the second.

Most of us are very disgusted with lawyers and lawsuits and opportunists and huge, unfair settlements. And as for foot-and-mouth, we don’t want it, hence our restrictions on importing European livestock. Europe should have sealed off its borders to prevent its rampant spread. It’s called a quarantine.

I wholeheartedly agree with the author’s friend, who said: “The trouble with Europe is that every time you get into trouble you yell across the Atlantic for help. But, when things are good you expect us to listen to your horses— lectures about the way we run things in the US.”

This doesn’t totally excuse the United States’ lack of interest in affairs abroad, but until they’ve been here, Europeans don’t grasp the size of this place. The United States is not the size of France. We have individual states that are larger than European countries, in land mass and/or population. We have divisions. To a New Yorker, New Mexico is difficult to understand. Keeping up just with what’s going on in the United States is like keeping up with all of Europe. Maybe worse. That said, if we’d learn the lessons of Europe we’d be much better off.

Not much needs to be said about this piece, except it illustrates how little the United States and how little Europe have changed over the past three centuries. The Founding Fathers were the liberals of their day, while Europe was conservative. Now, the United States is seen as conservative and Europe as more liberal. But we haven’t changed. The Founding Fathers mistrusted government, and modern conservatives and libertarians still do. Therefore, in the United States, we are apt to look for a solution outside government, and only go to the government to solve a problem as a last resort. We’ve always had that tendency and probably always will. In Europe, where people tend to trust the institution of government much more, that’s a strange idea.

And, to the inevitable question of environmentalism… We have precious little data. We know very little. We have tons and tons of satelite data from the past few years. But even assuming we have 40 years’ useful data, think about it. How old is the earth? The most extreme Judeo-Christian view dates the earth at about 6,000 years old. Many scientists say it’s several million years old. I’m no statistician, but as a journalist I had to take a statistics class so I’d at least remember to ask that sort of question. Seven years ago I would have had a prayer of telling you how many years’ sample size we did need. Forty years is not a significant sample size against the larger set, which is the figure the majority of environmentalists would accept. We know that temperatures and atmospheric content fluctuate over time, but we don’t know how much. Taking drastic measures at this point is little different from deciding public opinion on a given issue based on asking four people.

I’ll open this up for discussion, but talk about it in the forums. E-mail about this will probably just sit here or get a short private response; I need to focus on the things I do well. I can’t solve this problem, so I’ll focus on people’s PC questions and problems, which I frequently can solve.


Let’s talk about wealth. When I was 15 or 16, I was sitting in English class and the teacher stood up and told everyone that the American Dream is dead. We would be the first generation that would have it worse than our parents did, she said.

I didn’t argue, though I should have. I figured I’d at least be the one to buck the trend, if what she said turned out to be right. A couple of years before, my dad had actually bothered to sit down with me at the kitchen table, candidly tell me the mistakes he’d made in life, and then he told me it didn’t look like I’d make those same mistakes. I trusted my dad’s judgment.

But when I look around today, I wonder if my English teacher might have been right. Wealth isn’t  about money or possessions, after all. In that regard, she’s very wrong. There’s a high school next  to one of the buildings I work in. Most of the cars in that parking lot are nicer than the cars in the parking lot for the building I work in. And there are plenty of highly paid IT professionals like me in my building.

Am I better off than my dad? Well, let’s see. In 1981 my dad decided he’d made it, so he splurged. He  bought a luxury car: a Chrysler LeBaron. It wasn’t the swankiest of cars, but it was far and away the  most loaded car he’d ever owned. The only features it was missing were a tape deck (not sure if  Chrysler was offering that in 1981), the famous Corinthian leather, and speech synthesis (which I think they  were offering that year). I thought it was a nice car.

Today, nearly 20 years later, I drive a Dodge Neon. That car has everything that 1981 LeBaron had, plus some things it didn’t. By today’s standards, it’s not a luxury car.

Ten years later, my dad bought a 1980 Chrysler Cordoba, which he let me drive most of the time. That was the swankiest car Chrysler made in 1980. Leather seats, everything adjustable… It was still  awfully nice in 1991. The car my sister drives puts that Cordoba to shame. Leather seats, but these are heated. And my sister’s car isn’t a luxury car either. It’s mid-range.

I can’t quite afford the last house my dad bought. Give me a couple of years. I could afford the  next-to-last house my dad bought pretty easily. I don’t see the point–I’d just fill the place with computers and books, and I’d have to drive longer to get to work. I like where I’m living now.

Compared to my dad, I’ve got it good. Real good. And my dad was no pauper. He was a successful doctor. Not a high-priced doctor like a brain surgeon, but he did fine.

This weekend, I was talking to my good friend Tom Gatermann. He was talking about a friend who’s  about to marry a girl from the former Soviet Union. Her hometown is just south of Siberia. His friend was talking about living conditions there. Indoor plumbing is a luxury.

I spent a couple of weeks on a Navajo reservation in 1998 and 1999. Out there, a telephone is a luxury. Sometimes electricity is a luxury. Usually, those who go without budget so they have  electricity during the hottest parts of the year, then shut it off during the mild months.

For me, budgeting involves raising or lowering the thermostat by about 5 degrees if I’m going to be  gone for a few days. Or if a month looks like it might be particularly tight for some reason, I’ll  move my thermostat and turn off all but one of my computers. I did that last year, around tax time. Comparatively, that’s not a big deal.

No, wealth isn’t about possessions. I learned that in New Mexico. Wealth is about gratefulness. My  friends down there are much wealthier than I am. They’re grateful for just about everything they  have. I take my car, my computers, my phone, my indoor plumbing, my lights… I take all of that for granted pretty much. I complain when my DSL connection isn’t working right. Meanwhile, miles away, there’s someone walking half a mile to use a neighbor’s telephone, or someone walking outside in the dead of winter to an outhouse.

My generation’s spoiled. The generation after mine is even worse. We take everything for granted. Those younger than me take everything for granted and many of them want it handed to them. And if we  don’t have something we want, it’s always someone else’s fault. Eight years ago it was George Bush’s fault. Now it’s Bill Clinton’s fault, or those mean-spirited Republicans in Congress. Or maybe it’s Bill Gates’ and Larry Ellison’s and Warren Buffett’s fault, because they’ve accumulated all that  money and won’t share.

My cubicle neighbor agrees. We talked about that the other day, and he asked me the same question my  mom asked me last week: How do we fix it?

I remember my grandmother was grateful for everything she had, which by today’s standards, was zilch. But she never thought of herself as poor. Never. She lived through the Great Depression. People who  lived through the Depression looked at things very differently.

So I told my cube neighbor and my mom the same thing: We need a good, long, hard depression.  Capitalism gave us everything we ever wanted. But we changed the rules and said it wasn’t what we  wanted. We don’t know what we have, and we won’t all make a pilgrimage en masse to see how great life  is in Siberia. The only way for us to find out what we have is to struggle for a while.

So, was my English teacher right? Are we better off than our parents? NO.

I’m very sad to say I couldn’t prove her wrong.

Ultra-useful Windows and DOS utilities (plus Linux stuff)

There are loads of links in this mail. Explore them; you won’t be disappointed.

Hello. I maintain the Interesting DOS programs website and I was pleasantly surprised when I got an email telling me my site was mentioned in your book as a download reference site for XMSDSK.

While I only provided a link to the XMSDSK file on Simtel, it was still great to see my site which I never thought will ever get mentioned in any book, especially a Windows one 🙂

I got your book and I like it (a lot). However, there were some tools I thought should have gotten mentioned (most are mentioned on my site)


On Page 65, you mentioned FIPS as a tool to resize partitions. While I haven’t tried FIPS, there is another freeware utility which I’ve used several times :

Partition Resizer v1.33 It resizes/moves your FAT16/FAT32 partitions safely without losing the data on it. It doesn’t eliminate the need for FDISK. You use Partition Resizer to resize and rearrange the FAT16/FAT32 partitions to create free space on your drive and then run FDISK to create the partition.


The Infozip link at is orphaned and is no longer updated. An updated link is at


On Page 209, you mentioned that internal Zip drives lack DOS drivers, this is not true as I have an internal ZIP drive and I access them from DOS. Perhaps you were trying the older drivers that came with the first Iomega parallel port drive?


FastVid v1.10 Improves video performance on Pentium Pro and Pentium II PCI/AGP systems. I haven’t tested this myself but you may want to check it out.


LFN Tools v1.48 These are DOS commands (as stand alone EXE’s) that can handle long filenames in plain DOS. Supports FAT32

For example there is LCOPY which works like XCOPY under a DOS window (copying the long filenames) but in plain DOS. This is useful for diaster recovery situations when you can’t get into Windows and you need to get files off your Windows drive. Other commands include

LMD – create a long directory name LRD – remove a directory with a long directory name (e.g lrd “Program Files”) LDIR – like the DIR command showing long filenames.

The Tools are released under the GPL so source code is available and it is free.


AVPLite Build 134 Free (yet powerful) command-line antivirus detection and removal program.

The engine is only is only 49K (the antivirus updates are about 1.7MB) but it can scan inside ZIP, TGZ, CAB, mail folders in Netscape and Outlook, DOC files). If there is a virus on a machine, you can have a bootable disk with XMSDSK to create a ramdisk, then have the AVPlite and the antivirus update on separate floppy disks unzipped to the ramdrive and then run AVPlite from the ramdrive.


Some Linux links :

SET’s editor v0.4.41

GREAT text editor with the fimiliar Borland IDE interface with syntax highlighting. This is literally the FIRST app to install after you boot Linux. Editing text files with Joe, Vi and Emacs were ummmmmm….. kinda difficult ;-). Released under GPL.

(SET edit is also available for DOS with a built-in MP3 player 😉 )

The one page linux manual A PDF containing a summary of useful Linux commands You mentioned on your Silicon Underground that you wished there was a command reference for Linux. This one is close

————————————————————————- Since you mentioned Win3.x program manager, thought I’ll mention this

Calmira II v3.02 Freeware Win95 shell/interface for Windows 3.x, including explorer, etc.

Mask for Windows – PRWin98 Gives Win3.x apps the look and feel of Win9x apps


Looking forward to your upcoming Linux book (I agree with your sentiments on Silicon Underground – documentation is the main holdback for Linux)

Dev Teelucksingh
Interesting DOS programs at
Trinidad and Tobago Computer Society at

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Wow. Thanks for all the links. That’ll keep my readers busy for ages and ages to come. I did immediately go download SET edit. Very, very nice.

I’m very glad you like my book and look forward to the Linux book. It’s coming along, faster than the Windows book did, but not as quickly as I’d like. I’m not even willing to hazard a guess when it will be finished at this point.

A year from now, there will probably be twice as many Linux books available as there are now. Maybe more. The quality will vary widely. But we need them. The stuff coming out of the Linux Documentation Project is getting better (or maybe I’m just getting smarter) but the stuff available even six months ago very frequently had gaps that a newcomer wouldn’t be able to climb over: missing steps, poor or inaccurate description of output–all kinds of little things that suggest the author didn’t take the time to step through the process one last time. A plethora of available Linux books will help in more ways than one.

Back to DOS and Windows… Although many people deny it, DOS is still an integral part of Windows, and some things just can’t be accomplished without diving into DOS. Even under NT, I always keep a command line open. I can tell you the last day I didn’t use a command line. It was in June of last year. I know because I was in New Mexico, far away from work and from any of my computers.

So Iomega finally got around to releasing Zip drivers that work with the internal IDE and ATAPI models? About time. We bought a big batch of them at work about two years ago, and I needed to access them from DOS, and nothing. The drivers wouldn’t work. We contacted Iomega, and their line was, “These drives require Windows 95 or newer.” A year later, when I was writing that chapter, drivers still hadn’t appeared. But better late than never.

Thanks again.

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