I don’t like to do “this is what I did yesterday” messages but that’s all I’ve got. Mostly I re-imaged some Macs. I did get to put an HP optical drive in a Compaq Proliant server we bought used for pennies on the dollar from a failed dot-com. But no one had any drive rails. Luckily, I had a Compaq 386 sitting under my desk. I opened it up, pulled the 5.25″ drive, walked over to the Proliant, and it slid right in. Perfect. I unbolted the drive, bolted the rails to the optical drive (I had to find different screws), and put the drive right in. And the guy who normally handles the servers asked how I did it so fast. Hey, I did tech review on a book about PC hardware. I know how to work on these things… And I worked on far too many Compaqs my first two years of college. (And far too many IBMs my last two years of college.)

Hot tip: Compaq drive rails cost something like $30 from Compaq. Compaq 386s are free, when you can find them. Or they’re cheap. Or someone pays you 15 bucks to haul them away. Or, there’s eBay. I just found 12 people selling them there, with zero bids on them. Asking price: $4.99-$9.99.

I also parted out a Pentium-75 that no longer works. This is the only dead Micron PC I’ve seen, honestly. And I suspect the problem is the third-party memory in it (the memory there isn’t Micron, which tells me the original stuff was pilfered at some point). Since it’s useless, it’s either part it out and discard the stuff that can’t be used, or pay someone to haul it off. Well, I’m having a hard time getting my Soyo SY-7SBB motherboards running. Outside the case, they’re fine. Put them in one of my AT cases, and they don’t work. I suspect not enough grounding, or grounding in places it doesn’t want it. This Micron case is much more configurable than any of the AT cases I have, so it’ll help me solve the mystery. (I won’t go modifying my IBM PC/AT case until I figure out, with the Micron case’s help, where I need ground points. Then I’ll Dremel out the existing caseworks and put in spacers where I need them to be. Ah, the troubles I’ll go to for a chance to see someone’s face when they see something unexpected…

Last night after church, one of our seminary students was cleaning off his car. (We got some ice last night.) He had this dinky little plastic ice scraper that would probably fit in your shirt pocket. I was waiting for my car to warm up, noticed him struggling with that thing, so I pulled out my heavy-duty scraper, with its long metal handle and big brush, and walked over to his car. “I can tell you’re from Texas,” I said. Boom, boom, boom, and in 30 seconds I had all the remaining ice off his windshield. He watched me with huge eyes. I just laughed as I brushed off his windshield.

Heavy-duty ice scrapers are your friend. One day last week I had a half-inch layer of solid ice on my car. With this scraper, it still took me 10 minutes to clean it off. With a hand-size scraper, my only choice would have been to let the car run for 30 minutes with the defroster going full force.

And what’s this? I had 317 page reads at 3 p.m. yesterday. On a so-so DAY I get 317 reads. (I can get 600 on a good day; about 260 on a bad day.) That can’t be one person, because one person reading, if they spend two minutes per post, will get 30 in an hour. Maybe it was someone looking for something. I hope they found it. Or maybe a speed reader really really really likes my stuff.

And this from Gatermann. I got mail from a reader asking about getting a modem running under Linux. I noticed he used Southwestern Bell and suggested that was probably the problem, not his modem or Linux. I suggested he contact tech support and ask if Linux works. Gatermann piped in. They won’t even know what Linux is, he said. Remember, these are the people who couldn’t understand why they couldn’t ping me when I couldn’t get an IP address. (Yeah, I rolled my eyes too the first time Tom told me that story.)

But I suspect everyone there has heard of Linux. Heck, my ex-girlfriends know about Linux. The one I talked about taking me to the state capital and eating doughnuts on the steps (hey, if there are any Mizzou alumni out there and you know anything about this tradition, would you please e-mail me about it? Thanks in advance), one night we were sitting out there, and she brought up Linux. SHE did. At the time, I hated Linux because all I’d seen was Slackware. Another girl I dated briefly brought up Linux as much as she could because she knew I was writing a book about Linux at the time. Heck, people walk up to me at church and ask me if I know anything about Linux!

So Southwestern Bell employees have probably heard of Linux. But Tom’s right, they probably can’t say anything meaningful about it.



Video card; Optimizing Windows; Maxtor drive

A links day, mostly. I spent most of my free time last night conducting an interview, the fruits of which just aren’t ready for here yet. But man… There really is something that’s better than messing with computers. It’s chasing down a story. (Purely my opinion, of course. I can hear the “Shaddup, ya slimy journalist!” mutterings now.)

I messed around the last couple of days with importing messages and addresses from the Mac version of Netscape Communicator into Outlook. That’s an adventure. I’ll have to write that up, maybe this weekend. And for the first time in several years, I’m actually doing Windows NT administration on the domain level again. Granted, it’s not a production domain–the purpose is strictly research. But it’s kinda nice to move back into that realm for a little bit, though I don’t want to stay in that role too long.

I had tons of mail, some of which I got to and some I didn’t. I put off the less time-critical stuff until the weekend. But keep it coming. Frankly the mail’s better than the stuff I come up with on my own, I think.

Search request of the day. Every once in a while I get a weird one. Yesterday’s was, from Google, “hate Southwestern Bell.” Who doesn’t?

But first the big news. Linux 2.4 is out. Its release seemed like a bit of a letdown, with Linus Torvalds saying pretty much, “Oh, by the way, it’s out.” Expect to see distributions based around it soon, but probably not tomorrow.

What’s new about it? Scalability and speed, mostly. And I found the 2.3 series had slightly better memory management. Hmm. Seems quite the opposite of Microsoft, doesn’t it, when new releases require less memory than the previous version did? Of course the bloated GUIs will eat up all the memory the kernel frees up.

Duron vs. Celeron. From the head-to-head comparisons I’ve read, the Celeron/i815 combination is a better productivity box, by a hair. But the Duron/KM133 combo, though slow for productivity, is a surprisingly good low-end gaming box. And even in its weak spots, it’s still better than anything we had a couple of years ago. And I hold firmly to my statement that no computer made since 1997 is truly obsolete.

And on to the links…

A place to buy SCSI stuff. The great people over at Storage Review love Hypermicro. They’re at www.hypermicro.com .

Everything you ever wanted to know about SCSI. (I’m on a SCSI kick.) It’s at www.scsifaq.org .

Fix your VIA-based mobo. All the latest VIA drivers are over at www.viahardware.com/download/index.shtm .

Gigabyte GA-7DX preview. Get your AMD-760 fix over at www.xbitlabs.com/mainboards/ga-7dx.html . It’ll probably be a few weeks yet before you can buy one though. But this board sure looks good.


Video card; Optimizing Windows; Maxtor drive

Christmas presents you want, and don’t want

Evening update. I came home to a non-working phone and CD player. The phone’s working again. I’m thinking Southwestern Bell really doesn’t want me to like them. As for the CD player, I unplugged it for 10 seconds and plugged it in–first thing I do with any piece of electronics. That brought it back from the dead, but as I was listening to U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind, I noticed some crackling in the audio. I’ve been listening mostly to really synthy New Wave music lately and the crackling can blend in with the synths, but on the more organic-sounding tracks in the middle of ATYCLB, there’s no place for the crackling to hide.

I ought to open it up and see if the problem isn’t just an overly dirty lens. That’s nothing a foam swab dipped in a little isopropyl alcohol can’t fix. Otherwise, I may have to start shopping. That’s what www.audioreview.com is for. The JVC XL-MC334-BK looks good for the money.

I’ll also have to resist the temptation to get a second pair of speakers. The KLH 970A speakers are dirt cheap ($20-$30) and reportedly sound really good for the price. There are better speaker brands than KLH, but these would be secondary speakers and if I don’t like them on the stereo, if paired up with an inexpensive receiver they’d make a very nice computer sound system.

An early Christmas present you don’t want. Another e-mail worm is making the rounds, this one called Navidad.exe. Navidad.exe es muy mal para su computadora. Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

What it appears to do is reply to all messages in your inbox containing a single attachment, attaching itself in the process. The really nasty part is that the worm contains poorly written code, causing your system to be unstable.

I’ll continue with my standard advice. Don’t open unexpected executable (.exe) attachments. If you can’t tell the difference, don’t open unexpected attachments at all. It’s better to miss the joke than to have to reinstall Windows yet another time. Keep in mind that the people who are most likely to fall victim to such things are also the least likely to have any backups.

You can get details and a repair tool from Symantec.

A friend got a hysterical phone call at midnight last Thursday from another friend whose system was exhibiting behavior similar to this. He eventually calmed her down enough to walk her through reinstalling Windows, which restored her system to a bootable state.

If a system will no longer boot, it should be possible to bubblegum it back together with Windows 98’s scanreg tool. Boot to a command prompt by holding down the control key, then type scanreg at the C:> prompt. Restore a recent backup (preferably the most recent or second-most recent). Once you boot successfully, immediately update your virus signatures and run your anti-virus program, or download a repair tool to do a full repair.

This trick fixes many, but not all, recent viruses.

Windows NT on hardware it has no business on

A partial retraction. OK, Southwestern Bell isn’t responsible for all my missing mail. I had a second POP3 client running that I forgot about, which was grabbing some of my mail. But my computer couldn’t find a DHCP server all day, so even though one problem wasn’t their fault, another one was. So I’m still gonna write Casey Kassum with a request and dedication: Todd Rundgren’s “I Hate My Frickin’ ISP,” dedicated to my beloved Southwestern Bell.

Running, uh, no, executing Windows NT 4.0 on a Pentium-75 with 16 MB RAM. Disclaimer: Before you start thinking things that include my name and words like “crack” or “LSD,” let me state emphatically that this was not my idea. I was only following orders. (I’m not on drugs. I’m not nuts–I’m certifiably sane. I’m not even depressed.) All that clear? Good.

That said, the stated minimum hardware requirements for NT 4 are a 486 CPU with 12 MB RAM. And I did once build a print server out of an old IBM PS/2 that had a 486SLC2/50 CPU and 16 megs of RAM. Hey, I was young and I needed the money, OK? Besides, it was a very experimental time and I didn’t think anybody would get hurt…

OK, I’m done turning druggy double entendres.

Needless to say, NT on this machine is anything but pretty. (And I’ll put a marginal machine into service as a server where no one ever interacts with it directly long before I stick one on an end-user’s desk.) The video card in my flagship PC has more memory and processing power. But we’re out of PCs, and this poor girl needs a computer on her desk (though she’s never done anything to deserve this fate), so here’s what I did to try to make life on this machine more tolerable. These tricks work much better on fast machines.

  • Pull out all network protocols except TCP/IP. I also double-checked all TCP/IP settings and made sure the closest DNS server was first on the list.
  • Use a static IP address. The DHCP service uses memory and CPU cycles, and on machines like this, every byte and cycle counts.
  • Remove Office Startup, Find Fast, and LoadWC from Startup. The first two are in the All Users start menu. The last is in the registry. All eat memory and provide no useful functionality.
  • Move the swap file to a second physical hard disk. This machine happened to have a second drive, so I put the swap file there for better performance.
  • Turn off unnecessary services. The Scheduler service and Computer Browser service normally aren’t needed. If the network never sent out notifications (ours does), I’d also turn off the Messenger service.
  • Remove unnecessary fonts. I won’t do this without her present, since I might inadvertently nuke her favorite font. But if she doesn’t use it, it’s gone.
  • Keep free space above 100 megs. Windows slows to a crawl when forced to live on a drive that’s as crowded as a mosh pit.
  • Defragment! Making matters worse, this drive didn’t seem to have a single file on it that wasn’t fragmented. I ran Diskeeper and there was more red on the screen than at a Cardinals game when Mark McGwire’s chasing home run records.
  • When you have two drives, put the OS on the faster of the two. Unfortunately, the OS is on an ancient Seagate 420-meg drive, with a 2.1-gig drive in as the secondary drive. The roles really should be reversed. When in doubt, the bigger drive is usually faster. The newer drive almost always is. I may just Ghost the OS over to the 2.1-gig drive, then switch them.
  • Switch to Program Manager. She’s probably not comfortable with the old Windows 3.1 interface (I’ve only ever met one person who liked it) so I probably won’t do this, but that’ll save you a couple megs.

Yes, even with these adjustments, it’s still awful. So I’m gonna see if I can dig up some memory from somewhere. That’ll help more than anything. But as tempting as overclocking may be, I won’t do it.

Mail. voting, and recovery

Mail problems. I know for a fact that some good mail didn’t get to me. The smoking gun is a piece of mail, properly addressed to me, that fortunately was CC’ed to one of my readers. The reader responded to both of us, so I got the mail indirectly.

So… Not only does Southwestern Bell not have a clue about how to keep routers and DHCP servers running, apparently they’re also talented enough to make their mail server refuse some but not all mail. (If you happen to live in an area serviced by Southwestern Bell, do yourself a favor and buy your Internet access from someone else. I sure wish I had.)

Excuse me while I go call a local radio station and request the song “I Hate My Frickin’ ISP” by Todd Rundgren.

I’m back. Anyway. If you sent me mail and more than a week has passed and you haven’t heard a peep from me or seen your mail posted on the site, go ahead and send it again if you don’t mind. You might also copy farquhar@access2k1.net , my address at my backup ISP. I can’t imagine my ISPs are both so incompetent that they’d both swing and miss. (I know the mail server at work works just fine, but I’d rather not publicize that address–I get more mail there than I can handle.)

I haven’t been very good about using NaturallySpeaking lately.  So, in the interest of saving my wrists, I’m going to compose today’s post using dictation exclusively.

Be sure to go vote.  And remember, that e-mail going around about a split election day is a hoax.  A 33 percent expected turnout isn’t exactly overwhelming.  They can handle it. Not that any of this is likely to be news to any of my readership…

Time for a workout. I used NaturallySpeaking to write a song over the weekend, which was interesting.  It had a real hard time with the capitalization.  Let’s see how it handles recipes.

Dave’s Out Of This World Veggie Pizza.  A few months ago, I decided to shape up my diet.  My dad died of a heart attack a year ago yesterday, and his first cousin had to have a triple bypass this year.  Since my diet basically consisted of hamburgers, roast beef, and pepperoni pizza, I figured I was probably in trouble.  So I cut out most of the red meat, substituting poultry.  I really missed the pepperoni pizza.  Last week, I came up with this healthier substitute.

one pre-prepared 12″ pizza crust
1 1/2 cups spaghetti sauce
one cup mozzarella
8 to 10 fresh mushrooms, sliced
10 to 12 black olives, halved
four artichoke hearts, sliced

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Place crust on baking stone. Brush lightly with olive oil. Cover with sauce.  Cover with mozzarella. Add veggies. Sprinkle with liberal quantities of your favorite spices (thyme, oregano, basil, and parsley all work well). Turn the oven down to 425 degrees, then bake for 10 to 15 minutes. Serves two to three.

I like this recipe because it’s quick. By the time the oven heats up, I’ve put the pizza together. It really doesn’t take much longer than a frozen pizza would, costs about the same amount, and is much healthier (not to mention better-tasting).

For full effect, serve with green tea, iced, to drink.

Boy, NaturallySpeaking sure stumbled all over that one. I hope it’s just because it’s used to me talking about computers.

A tough question, and an answer

Late post Sunday. If you checked early and it wasn’t there, there’s mail. The post I originally intended is no more, unfortunately. So it goes when you depend on something other than a real operating system. Say what you will about Linux’s ease of use, but its stability certainly is a productivity gain. I’ll take having to learn new tricks over having to tolerate crashes any day of the week. Now if Southwestern Bell will just get their infrastructure working right again so something other than Win98 can connect…
A tough question, and an answer. It’s been well over a year since anyone asked me why I believe in God, and specifically, one benevolent God. Maybe people are afraid to ask, I don’t know. But on Sunday I heard a story that reinforces exactly why.

One of our elders had a pregnant wife. She was a little under two weeks from her due date when, tragically, she was in a car wreck last Thursday or Friday (I don’t remember all the specific details). She was shaken, but there didn’t appear to be any harm. Still, the obvious question was, why? Why would a loving God allow such a risk? Especially to this family, which has been through so much and yet remained so faithful? Where was your God then, I can hear some asking–especially as you said “had a pregnant wife,” as opposed to “has…”

Well, the story’s not over. The doctor insisted on keeping her overnight for observation, when he noticed the baby’s heart rate going down, down, down, until it reached dangerous levels. So, the doctor decided, it was time to get him out of there and he induced labor. Their son was born healthy. But here was the rub–the umbilical cord was wrapped all around him. Most notably, around his neck. Had he gone full-term, the doctor said he probably would have been stillborn.

Suddenly that car crash makes a whole lot more sense. How many people can literally say a car crash saved his life?

See enough things like that, and the doubts start to fade a little.

Phone shopping

Telephones. I’ve been using the same Uniden cordless phone for the past six years, and it’s been a decent phone until the batteries go. So I went out in search of a battery, knowing that this phone is two generations behind the current state-of-the-art. The best price I could find on a new battery was $8, which seems a bit steep considering that a new 900 MHz cordless phone, including battery, costs as little as $20. You won’t get the highest quality at that price, but even today’s junk has a decent chance of outperforming a mid-range 1994 model. So I looked long and hard at new units.
Gatermann had just bought a new 2.4 GHz phone (these rates refer to the frequency at which the phone operates–higher is better, giving shorter, more nimble waves for greater range and clarity) at Radio Shack last week, and I was fairly impressed with it. But I’m a tightwad, so I searched for a bargain. A basic 900 MHz phone should be fine for my apartment, but as long as I was getting a new phone, I figured I might as well get one that could operate a headset, and I couldn’t find a 900 MHz model that could. I did find a Southwestern Bell 2.4 GHz unit that did, for $60. As far as I can tell, both Southwestern Bell and AT&T are still buying phones from Lucent and relabeling them, so your local Baby Bell probably does something similar. I was also glad to see this phone uses an NiMH battery, rather than a NiCad. While NiMH is more expensive, it’s a much better battery technology. Longer lasting, less prone to developing memory (though not immune to it)–it’s just worth looking for.

I also got a $10 headset. I’ve had spasms in my hands while holding a phone a couple of times, so the headset will eliminate that problem.

Killing a process in Unix

My Linux gateway likes to fall off the Internet occasionally. I think it’s Southwestern Bell’s fault, because it always seems to happen right after it tries to renew its DHCP lease. Rebooting fixes the problem, but I wanted a cleaner way.
Here it is. Do a tail /var/log/messages to get the PID for pumpd. [Or, better, use the command pidof [program name] –DF, 5/25/02] Do a kill -9 [PID] to eliminate the problem process. (This process tends to keep the network from restarting.) Then, do a /etc/rc.d/rc3.d/S10network restart to stop and restart the network. [Better: use /etc/init.d/network restart, which is runlevel independent and works on more than just Red Hat-derived distros. –DF, 5/25/02] Try pinging out just to make sure the Internet’s working again, and bingo. Back in business.

I don’t know that this is the best or most elegant way of doing it, but it works and it’s much faster than waiting for that old 486 clunker to do a warm boot.