How far we’ve fallen

It’s job interview time again. I haven’t lost my job, at least not yet, but I’m not waiting around to see if I’m going to. I’m hitting pavement, talking to potential employers, whether they’re connected to what I’m doing now or not.

So, it was off to the mall to buy some clothes this weekend for the interview because all my dress clothes are from 1991. They fit (I wore them to my last interviews in 2005), but when your clothes are old enough to vote, it’s probably time for something new.What I found at the mall was depressing. There were lots of vacancies, including places I remember having something the last time I was at the mall. That might have been October, but October isn’t that long ago. And I’m not talking as someone who owns clothes that are old enough to vote. In business, October is yesterday. I’m still dealing with projects at work that started around then.

I also found people with college degrees working retail. Not 2-year degrees. I’m talking 4-year degrees from good schools.

At a job fair today, someone scoffed at my journalism degree. Frankly I’m getting tired of apologizing for my journalism degree, especially from people who wouldn’t know how to spell "journalism" correctly, or at least don’t know that paragraphs generally have more than one sentence in them. Engineering isn’t the end-all of life. And a journalism degree from the University of Missouri isn’t a cakewalk. It’s one of the top three schools in the country, and there’s a reason for that: It’s hard.

And I won’t apologize for it because that degree allowed me to write an O’Reilly book at the age of 24.

I also won’t apologize for it because if I’m not deemed worthy to keep the job I’ve been doing for three years, I should be able to make enough as a freelance writer to keep the utilities on and keep food in my son’s stomach without being a burden on the taxpaying public.

And finally, I won’t apologize for it because I’ve survived in this industry since early 1997, in spite of having a degree in a seemingly unrelated field. In the mid 1990s, no four-year university was teaching what I do. Want to guess what the best sysadmin I’ve ever met majored in? Interdisciplinary studies. That’s a polite way of saying "nothing." But the people who come from all over the country to hear him speak couldn’t care less what he majored in.

But I’ve gotten off track. I guess I’m in a bad mood because this week I also had to sit in a meeting where I listened to someone tell 20 people that they won’t be retained, and 20 temporary employees who’ve been with the company for a month will be retained, "because they’re doing a helluva job."

No, those temps will be retained because they’re cheaper. The people in that room have busted their butts for that company for years. But in some cases, the management doesn’t even know those people’s names or job titles, in spite of the number of years and long hours they put in.

Of course you don’t want to let a temp go. You shouldn’t want to let anyone go. But that’s always a risk when you’re a temp. I was a temp twice. Once I was let go myself. The second time they kept me, but let go another temp from the same company who started the same time I did. And I knew from the start that it was a possibility.

But I think the thing that depressed me the most was seeing the long lines at that job fair, where I applied for my current job and tried not to show offense when someone ridiculed my journalism degree. The majority of people who showed up at that fair won’t get jobs. And you could tell from the looks on their faces that a lot of them knew that. But what else were they going to do? They had to try.

I don’t know how much longer this is going to last. A local economist on the news Sunday morning said he expected 6-18 months. That means he thinks things will be bad at least until July 2009, and perhaps as long as July 2010.

And from what I can tell right now, my best bet for recession-proofing my career is Sun Solaris 10. Should I find myself with ample free time in the near future, I’ll probably try to spend a lot of it learning that.

A Readyboost alternative for XP

I found a reference today to Eboostr, a product that adds Readyboost-like capability to XP. Essentially it uses a USB 2.0 flash drive to speed up your system, although it’s unclear whether it’s using it for virtual memory, a disk cache, or both.

I found a review.I don’t have a machine that’s an ideal candidate for this. The product, from everyone else’s comments on the blog, works best on machines that have less than 1 GB of RAM. If you’ve maxxed out the memory on an aging laptop, this product will extend its usefulness.

My ancient Micron Transport laptop would be a good candidate, since it maxes out at 320MB of RAM and none of the 256 MB sticks I’ve tried in it work, so I’m stuck at 192 MB. But there are two problems: It’s running Windows 2000, and it doesn’t have USB 2.0 slots. Any machine that came with USB 2.0 slots and Windows XP probably can be upgraded pretty cheaply to 1 GB of RAM or more.

I could put XP on the laptop, get a PCMCIA USB 2.0 card for it, and a $20 USB stick so I can use a $29 product to give me Readyboost. But by the time I bought all that, I’d be more than halfway down the road to a newer laptop.

I think a better solution for me would be to replace the hard drive with a solid-state drive. It would cost less than $200, boost the reliability (the latest I’ve heard is that solid state IDE drives will last about 10 years, which is about double the expectancy of a conventional drive), and then everything is on a device with a fast seek time. Plus the drive in that machine is getting old anyway and probably ought to be replaced. I could probably get a solid state drive for about the cost of a conventional hard drive, a USB stick, and this software.

I’m not going to dismiss the software entirely, since it clearly is helping some of the people using it. If you run lots of heavy applications side by side and you’re running up against your memory limits, it can probably help you. And if you can get a good deal on a flash drive (either you have one, or grab one on sale for $20), then there’s little harm in downloading the demo and trying it out for 4 hours. Make sure you stress the system before and after installing to see if you can notice a difference.

If you don’t see much difference, you’re not out much. USB flash drives are incredibly useful anyway. Use it as a cheap and fast backup device. If you do see a difference, then you’ve extended the useful life of your machine.

The mixed results don’t surprise me, frankly. Vista’s Readyboost gives mixed results too. It really helps some people. It has no effect on others. And in rare cases it may actually make things worse.

If you want to try to get some of the benefit for free, you might experiment with redirecting your browser cache, Photoshop scratch disk, and temp files to a USB flash drive. It almost certainly won’t hurt, and could help a lot.

A better registry cleaner

Note: I wrote this back in the Windows XP days. It worked really well under XP, but if you’re going to run the registry cleaner portion in Windows 7 or Windows 10, be sure to create a restore point first.

I’ve been messing around with a registry cleaner called CCleaner. I like it a lot better than the commercial tools that used to come with Norton Utilities and the like, and I like it better than the freebies that we used to use like Microsoft’s Regclean.

And you’ll never beat the price.CCleaner runs on Windows 95, 98, 98SE, ME, NT4, 2000, XP, and Vista.

One thing that I liked about it is that the program is intelligent and relatively dummy-proof. If you click around and do all of the defaults, it’s not likely to harm your computer. I inadvertently wiped out my Firefox browser history (I wanted to keep that) but that’s not a showstopper. It will populate itself again in a few weeks. Unlike commercial utility suites, where I’ve written 20-page explanations how to use them safely, this program doesn’t really need any explanation.

CCleaner actually does more than just clean up the Registry, although it does a fine job of that. It also does a great job of weeding out useless temporary files. I ran it on my old laptop and it found 386 megabytes of junk on my crowded C drive. I’ve been manually cleaning it up by searching it by hand, and I think I do a pretty good job of finding a lot of stuff, but what can I say? The program found 386 megs of stuff that I didn’t.

There are three benefits to getting rid of that cruft. First, Windows needs quite a bit of free space just to function properly. When you start getting too little free space, the system just acts goofy. Second, large numbers of temp files in the system directory just seem to make the system act funny. This was a bigger problem in Windows 9x than in the newer NT-based Windows versions, but there’s still no reason to have hundreds of those laying around. In my desktop support days, just getting rid of temp files used to clear up all sorts of mysterious problems. And finally, not having all those large and useless files on the disk makes your defragmentation programs work better. Those programs need free space to work with, and they don’t have to work as hard when they don’t have hundreds of extra worthless files to move around.

Cleaning the Registry is another important job, since a lot of uninstallation programs don’t do a very thorough job of cleaning up after themselves. The extra bloat chews up memory and slows down searches for the legitimate data the programs you actually use need. Since I tend not to install many programs and I use most of the ones I do install, CCleaner didn’t find a whole lot in my Registry, but it found some stuff to clean up.

So what happened after I ran it? The most noticeable effects were that my Start menu was a lot peppier, and my Web browsers loaded and ran a little bit faster. I understand the Web browser speedup, but the Start menu puzzled me a bit. Not that I’m complaining–it’s irritating when you press Start and have to wait for your list of programs to come up.

CCleaner isn’t a miracle worker and it won’t turn my P3-700 into a Core Duo, but the two systems I’ve run it on do run noticeably faster afterward. It was certainly more than worth the 10 minutes it took for me to download it and run it on each.

So what about the commercial utilities suites? Skip them. In this day and age, there are better, free alternatives for everything those utilities suites could do. CCleaner is one of the superstars. In coming days, I’ll talk about free substitutes for the other most important components of the utility suites.

Encryption on the cheap

Disspam cruises along. It’s not often that I gush about a program, let alone a 4.5K Perl script, but Disspam continues to make my life easier. Granted, it simply takes advantage of existing network resources, but they’re resources that were previously (to my knowledge) limited to the mail administrator. Literally half my e-mail at home today was spam. Disspam caught every last piece.
A little scripting of my own. I’ve got a client at work who wants absolute privacy guaranteed. He and his assistant have some files they don’t want anyone else to be able to read, period. Well, there’s no way to guarantee that under NT, Unix, or VMS. Under NT, we can take away anyone else’s rights to read the file, but an administrator can give himself rights to read the file once again. We can make it set off all kinds of sirens if he does it, but that security isn’t good enough.

Well, the only way we can guarantee what they want is with encryption. But we’re nervous about making files that one and only one person can read, because last year, one of our executives went on vacation in Florida, fell ill, and died. We don’t want to be in a situation where critical information that a successor would need can’t be unlocked under any circumstance. So we need to encrypt in such a fashion that two people can unlock it, but only two. So the client’s backup is his assistant, and the assistant’s backup is the client. That way, if something ever happens to one of them, the other can unlock the files.

Password-protected Zip files are inadequate, because any computer manufactured within the past couple of years is more than fast enough to break the password through brute force in minutes, if not seconds. The same goes for password-protected Word and Excel documents. Windows 2000’s encryption makes it painfully easy to lock yourself out of your own files.

So I spent some time this afternoon trying to perfect a batch file that’ll take a directory, Zip it up with Info-Zip, then encrypt it with GnuPG. I chose those two programs because they’re platform-independent and open source, so there’s likely to always be some kind of support available for them, and this way we’re not subject to the whims of companies like NAI and PKWare. We’d be willing to pay for this capability, but this combination plus a little skullwork on my part is a better solution. For one, the results are compressed and encrypted, which commercial solutions usually aren’t. Since they may sometimes transfer the encrypted package over a dialup connection, the compression is important.

Plus, it’s really nice to not have to bother with procurement and license tracking. If 40 people decide they want this, we can just give it to them.

The biggest problem I ran into was that not all of the tools I had to use interpreted long filenames properly. Life would have been much easier if Windows 2000 had move and deltree commands as well. Essentially, here’s the algorithm I came up with:

Encrypt:
Zip up Private Documents subdirectory on user’s desktop
Encrypt resulting Zip file, dump file into My Documents
Back up My Documents to a network share

Decrypt and Restore:
Decrypt Zip file
Unzip file to C:Temp (I couldn’t get Unzip to go to %temp% properly)
Move files into Restored subdirectory on user’s desktop

I don’t present the batch files here yet because I’m not completely certain they work the right way every time yet.

They don’t quite have absolute security with this setup, but that’s where NTFS encryption comes in. If these guys are going to run this script every night to back the documents up, it’s no problem if they accidentally lock themselves out of those files. If their laptops get stolen, all local copies of the documents are encrypted so the thief won’t be able to read them. And the other user will be able to decrypt the copy stored on the server or on a backup tape. Or, I can be really slick and copy their GPG keys up onto the same network drive.

This job would be much easier with Linux and shell scripts–the language is far less clunky, and file naming is far less kludgy–but I have to make do. I guess in a pinch I could install the NT version of bash and the GNU utilities to give myself a Unixish environment to run the job, but that’s a lot more junk to install for a single purpose. That goes against my anti-bloat philosophy. I don’t believe in planning obsolescence. Besides, doing that would severely limit who could support this, and I don’t have to try to plant job security. I always get suspicious when people do things like that.

The search for the compressed ramdisk is over!

Things that make you go… D’OH! I spent, as I’ve said a number of times before, the better part of a weekend trying to figure out how to run Windows from a ramdisk. I figured I couldn’t have been the first to do such a thing, but I couldn’t find any reference online to anyone who had. After a weekend of turning some hair gray, I got it working on my own.

Then I set out to compress my ramdisk. Disk compression makes sense when disk space is expensive, and RAM is comparatively expensive, and even if disk compression slows it down by 100%, compressed RAM is still many orders of magnitude faster than a metal disk. I couldn’t get it working. I didn’t say it was impossible, because I’ll never write anything off as impossible, but I said I couldn’t get it working. I figured that’d be the last I’d hear of it.

Then over the weekend, Tony Brewer, a reader of the Optimizing Windows, wrote in, quoted that paragraph verbatim and casually said, “It’s most definitely possible.” I was flabbergasted. Had he done it? I wrote back and asked if he’d done it and if he’d be willing to share the secret.

Indeed he had, and he was kind enough to share the secret. It turns out I was very, very close to getting it working. But close is only good enough in nuclear war, not computers.

Here’s what he had to say:

Dave,

There is an elegant and simple method for running Win9x on a compressed RAM disk. Assuming that Win9x is already installed on C: and using the same drive letters as in Chapter 11 of your book:

Run DriveSpace in Windows to create an empty compressed drive E: of the desired size using free space on C:, re-boot, then install Win9x to E:windows (with the swap file on C:). Edit c:\msdos.sys, c:\config.sys and c:\autoexec.bat as follows:

c:msdos.sys
——————
[Paths]WinDir=e:\windows
WinBootDir=e:\windows
HostWinBootDrv=c

c:\config.sys
—————–
device=c:\windows\himem.sys
device=c:\windows\emm386.exe    ;or use umbpci.sys
dos=high,umb
devicehigh=c:\windows\ifshlp.sys
devicehigh=c:\windows\setver.exe

c:\autoexec.bat
———————

path=e:\windows;e:\windows\command;e:\windows\system
set temp=c:\ temp
set tmp=c:\temp
….

After re-booting, Win9x should run on the compressed drive E:, hosted by physical disk C:. To have a compressed RAM disk, the host must be an uncompressed RAM disk, D: for example. In c:d??space.ini (c:dblspace.ini or c:drvspace.ini, probably the former), change the ActivateDrive setting to read:

ActivateDrive=E,D1

This tells the DriveSpace driver to mount the compressed volume file (CVF) d??space.001 as drive E: with host drive D:. (Mounting is not automatic as it was with host drive C:, because RAM disk D: does not exist when io.sys loads the DriveSpace driver, dblspace.bin or drvspace.bin.)

Edit c:\autoexec.bat so that it contains the following:


path=c:\windows;c:\windows\command;c:\windows\system
REM Create RAM disk
xmsdsk {desired size of RAM disk in kilobytes} d: /t /y
REM Copy CVF to RAM disk
attrib c:\drvspace.001 -s -h -r
copy c:\drvspace.001 d:\
attrib c:\drvspace.001 +s +h +r
attrib d:\drvspace.001 +s +h +r
REM Mount CVF using scandisk /mount
scandisk /mount d:\drvspace.001
REM E: is now compressed RAM disk
path=e:\windows;e:\windows\command;e:\windows\system
set temp=c:\temp
set tmp=c:\temp

After re-booting, Win9x should run on the compressed RAM disk! :o)

(On a networked PC, there is no need for a hard disk as the CVF can be copied from a server. Diskless Win9x using a compressed RAM disk works very well.)

The above method is an adaptation of one by Andre Moreira. http://www.dei.isep.ipp.pt/~andre/extern/nc98.htm

Regards,

Tony Brewer
tonybrewer@bigDELETEfoot.com

With some thought, I may be able to simplify it a little, but not by much. The obvious simplification would be to use the free-for-private-use xxcopy to copy drvspace.001 in a single step, saving all those attrib lines in autoexec.bat.

This shows a lot of promise. Memory’s so cheap right now that it’s feasible to get 384 megs, leave yourself with 64 or even 128 megs of working memory, and still have a decent-sized ramdisk. Windows 95 will install to as little as 17 MB, if you know the secrets. Windows 98 is considerably larger but it’s still possible to stuff Win98 and a couple of apps into a compressed 256 MB disk, and it’s super fast. Even with disk compression, access to a compressed ramdrive is nearly instant. I did get compressed ramdrives working inside Windows (I just couldn’t boot from them) and even on my Pentium-90 a compressed ramdisk was fast. So if you want maximum speed, this is the way. And I’m wondering what this would do for a laptop’s battery life…

I’m really eager to give this a test drive.

Update: The following doesn’t seem to work with the original Windows 95 or Windows 95A. This may explain the difficulty I had initially, because I was using the Aug. 24, 1995 release of Win95 because of its small size (I was using a P90 with 48 MB RAM at the time).

I’m going to try to test it with Win98 this afternoon. I’d rate the chances of it working with Win95B higher than with Win95A but not necessarily as high as with Win98.

Update 2: Indeed, it does work with Win98 (original, I haven’t tested 98SE yet) with the instructions as written. The only caveats: Be sure to double check c:\config.sys, c:\autoexec.bat, and c:\dblspace.ini every step of the way. Windows setup has a tendency to modify their contents without warning, so you can get complaints of missing files when it goes to look for them on a not-yet-existing ramdrive.

Also, Fat32 and DriveSpace are incompatible, so you have to do your initial build on a Fat16 drive.

And for maximum speed, be sure to defrag the compressed volume before booting it into RAM. Sure, ramdisks are invulnerable to the mechanical effects of fragmentation, but the data structures are fragmented too, which slows things down even when no mechanical parts are involved.

How fast is it? I tested it on a Pentium-200 with the Intel VX chipset with 160 MB RAM. I set up a 128-meg ramdisk with a compressed drive using 127 megs total. The system boots in a little over a minute. IE4.0 loads in literally a second. Word 97 loads in two. Not bad for a system that’s suddenly found itself with only 32 MB RAM to work with.

Obsolescence is obsolete.

Optimizing DOS and the BIOS, plus new iMacs

Optimizing DOS (Or: A New Use for Ancient Equipment). I was thinking yesterday, I wished I had a computer that could just hold disk images and do data recovery. Then I remembered I had a DECpc 320P laptop laying under my desk. I cranked it up. MS-DOS 5, 20 MHz 386sx, 80-meg drive, 6 MB RAM, grayscale VGA display. So I installed Norton Utilities 8, the main thing I wanted to run (I had a retail box sitting on my shelf), then of course I set out to optimize it. Optimizing DOS is really easy: it’s just a question of disk optimization and memory management. I cleaned up the root directory, pulled the extraneous files in the C:\DOS directory (the .cpi files, all the .sys files, all the .bas files). Then I ran Speed Disk, setting it to sort directory entries by size in descending order, put directories first, and do full optimization. It took about 30 minutes. If I’d been really bored I could have mapped out what executables are most important to me and put those first. Since DOS doesn’t track file access dates it can’t automatically put your frequently accessed files first like Speed Disk for Windows does.

Of course when I installed Norton Utilities 8 I installed NDOS, its command.com replacement. Built-in command history, improved resident utilities, and thanks to its memory management, it actually uses far less conventional memory (but more memory total) than command.com. That’s OK; with 6 MB of RAM I can afford to give up a fair bit of extended memory for better functionality.

Once I was happy with all that, I also attacked the startup files. I started off with a basic config.sys:

device=c:\dos\himem.sys
device=c:\dos\emm386.exe noems
dos=high,umb
files=30

Then I went into autoexec.bat, consolidated the PATH statements into one (it read: PATH C:\WINDOWS;C:\DOS;C:\DOS\u;C:\MOUSE) and added the prefix LH to all lines that ran TSRs or device drivers (such as MOUSE.EXE). Upon further reflection, I should have moved the Mouse directory into C:\DOS to save a root directory entry.

I added the NCACHE2 disk cache to autoexec.bat– NCACHE2 /ext=4096 /optimize=s /usehigh=on /a a c /usehma=on /multi=on. That turns on multitasking, enables caching of both C: and A:, tells it to use 4 MB of memory, use high memory, and use extended memory. My goal was to use as much memory as prudently as possible, since I’d be using this just for DOS (and mosly for running Norton Utilities).

I also set up a 512K RAMdisk using RAMDRIVE.SYS (devicehigh=c:\dos\ramdrive.sys 512 128 4). Then I added these lines to autoexec.bat:

md d:\temp
set tmp=d:\temp
set temp=d:\temp

Now when an app wants to write temp files, it does it to a RAMdisk. The other parameters tell it to use 128K sectors to save space, and put 4 entries in the root directory, also to save space. With DOS 5, that was the minimum. I don’t need any more than one, since I’m making a subdirectory. I could just point the temp directory to the root of D:, but I’d rather have dynamic allocation of the number of directory entries. This setting is more versatile–if I need two big files in the temp directory, I’m not wasting space on directory entries. If on the other hand I need tons of tiny files, I’m guaranteed not to run out of entries.

It’s not a barn burner by any stretch, but it’s reasonably quick considering its specs. Now when someone trashes a floppy disk, I can just throw it in the 320P, run Disk Doctor and Disktool on it (and in a pinch, Norton Disk Editor), copy the data to the HD, then throw the recovered data onto a new, freshly formatted floppy. I’ll only use it a couple of times a year, but when I need such a beast, I need it badly. And if I have the need to run some other old obscure DOS program that won’t run on newer machines, the 320P can come to my rescue again too. It runs the software well, it boots in seconds–what more can I ask?

I could have done a couple more things, such as a  screen accelerator and a keyboard accelerator . Maybe today if I have time.

I was tempted to put Small Linux ( http://www.superant.com/smalllinux/ ) on it, but frankly, DOS 5 and Norton Utilities 8 is more useful to me. I’m not sure what I’d do with a non-networkable Linux box with only 6 MB RAM and a monochrome display.

A useful (but unfortunately dated) link. I stumbled across this yesterday: The BIOS Survival Guide , a nicely-done guide to BIOS settings. Unfortunately it stopped being maintained in 1997, so it’s most useful for tweaking very old PCs. Still, it’s better than nothing, and most modern PCs still have most of these settings. And reading this does give you a prayer of understanding the settings in a modern PC.

If you want to optimize your BIOS, this is about as good a starting point as you’re going to find online for free. For more recent systems, you’ll be better served by The BIOS Companion, written by Phil Croucher (one of the co-authors of this piece.) You can get a sample from that book at http://www.electrocution.com/biosc.htm .

New iMac flavors. Steve Jobs unveiled the new iMacs this week. The new flavors: Blue Dalmation and Flower Power. Yes, they’re as hideous as they sound. Maybe worse. Check the usual news outlets. They’d go great in a computer room with a leopard-skin chair, shag carpet, and lava lamps. And don’t forget the 8-track cranking out Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead tunes.

I think the outside-the-box look of Mir, the PC Gatermann and I built as a Linux gateway (see yesterday), is far more tasteful–and that’s not exactly the best idea we ever had.

Binary file editing and hardware compatibility

Binary file editing. I’ve recovered many a student’s term paper from munged disks over the years using Norton Disk Edit, from the Norton Utilities (making myself a hero many times). Usually I can only recover the plain text, but that’s a lot better than nothing. Rebuilding an Excel spreadsheet or a QuarkXPress document is much harder–you have to know the file formats, which I don’t.
But at any rate, I’ve on a number of occasions had to run NDE to recover meeting minutes or other documents at work. The sheer number of times I have to do this made me adamantly opposed to widespread use of NTFS at work. Sure, the extra security and other features is nice, but try telling that to an irate user who just lost the day’s work for some reason. The “technical superiority” argument doesn’t hold any water there.

Enter WinHex (www.winhex.com). Now it doesn’t matter so much that the powers that be at work didn’t listen to my arguments. 🙂 (NDE from vanilla DOS would still be safer, since the disk will be in suspended state, but I guess you could yank the drive and put it in another PC for editing.)

For those who’ve never done this before, you can recover data using a brute force method of searching for known text strings that appeared in the file. For example, I once worked on recovering a thesis that contained the line “I walk through a valley of hands.” Chances are, if I search for that, I’m gonna find the rest of the document in close proximity. A Windows-based editor makes this kind of data recovery very nice–search for the string, keeping Notepad open, then copy and paste the strings as you find them.

Knowledge of the underlying filesystem (FAT or NTFS) is helpful but not essential, as is knowledge of the file format involved. If worse comes to worse, you can recover the strings out of the file and have the app open to re-enter it (being aware that you run the risk of overwriting the data, of course).

I found some useful links on the WinHex site detailing certain file formats.

This is a program I suspect I’ll be buying soon, since my need for it is probably more a matter of when rather than if.

———-

From: “James Cooley”

Subject: Tip for tat?

Hi Dave,

I waded through all your views (That’s where all those hits came from!) and I like your style and learned a great deal. Here’s another tip I didn’t see mentioned: in autoexec.bat, add the following: set temp=C:\temp set tmp=C:\temp set tmpdir=C:\temp

You could use the ramdisk drive you mention, of course. I don’t know if this speeds things up, but it sure helps minimize the clutter from most installs when you clean the temp directory periodically. I use C:\temp2 for those disposable downloads because some programs hate extracting into their own directory. Norton Anti-Virus comes to mind: if you run the updates from C:\temp it hangs.

I ordered _UNIX in a Nutshell_ from a recommendation on your site, but got a 500 page tome instead of the 92 pages you mentioned. If you recall the O’Rielly book I’m talking about, could you give me the exact name so I needn’t hunt it down again?

Hope your hands are healing.

Regards,

Jim

———-

Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed it (but isn’t that an awful lot of reading?)

I’ve seen the tmpdir trick; fortunately not a whole lot of programs use it anymore but that is useful. Thanks.

And yes, as you observe it’s a good idea to use a separate dir for program installs. I try to avoid hanging it directly off the root for speed considerations (a clean root dir is a fast root dir)–I usually stick it on the Windows desktop out of laziness. That’s not the best place for it either, but it’s convenient to get to.

The 92-page book is Learning the Unix Operating System, by Jerry Peek and others. It’s about $12. The 500-page Unix in a Nutshell is useful, but more as a reference. I’ve read it almost cover-to-cover, but I really don’t like to read the big Nutshell books that way. Information overload, you know?

———-

From: “al wynn”

Subject: MAX screen resolution for Win95/98/2000

Do you know the MAXIMUM screen resolutions for Win95/98/2000 (in pixels) ? Which operating systems can support a dual-monitors setting ?

NEC 15′ MultiSync CRT monitors max out at (1280 x 1024 @ 66Hz); for 17′ CRT’s, it’s usually (1600 x 1200 @76Hz). Do you know any 15′ and 17′ models that can handle denser resolutions ? (like (1792 x 1344 @68Hz) or (1920 x 1440 @73Hz) ?

Also, which Manufacturer/Model do you prefer for flat-panel LCD’s ? Which 15′ or 17′ LCD models boast the highest resolution ?

———-

I believe Windows’ limit is determined by the video drivers. So, if a video card ships someday that supports some obnoxious resolution like 3072×2560, Windows should support it. That’s been the case in the past, usually (and not just with the Windows platform–it holds true for other systems as well).

Windows 98 and 2000 support dual monitors.

I’ve never seen a 15″ monitor that does more than 1280×1024, and never seen a 17″ that does more than 1600×1200. I find anything higher than 1024×768 on a 15″ monitor and higher than 1152×864 on a 17″ strains my eyes after a full day of staring at it.

As for flat-panels, I don’t own one so I can’t speak authoritatively. I’d probably buy an NEC or a Mitsubishi if I were going to get one. The price difference between an off-brand flat-panel and a big name is small enough (relative to price) and the price high enough that I’d want to go with someone I know knows how to make quality stuff–I’m not gonna pay $800-900 for something only to have it break after two years. I’m totally sold on NEC, since I bought a used NEC Multisync II monitor in 1990 that was built in 1988. It finally died this year.

A 15″ flat-panel typically does 1024×768, while a 17″ does 1280×1024.

Sound card and hard drive troubleshooting

Sound card woes. Gatermann recently ran into some problems with sound cards forcing his Internet connection to drop. It had literally been six years since I’ve seen a problem like that before, but he kept running into it. Finally, it dawned on me: Try changing slots to force it to use a different interrupt. Therein was the silver bullet. The problem didn’t go away completely, but the culprit arose: the Sound Blaster 16 emulation. So I had him go into Device Manager and put the SB16 emulation on a different interrupt, and the problem went away.
It’s been forever since I’ve seen an honest-to-goodness interrupt conflict. This particular PC has every expansion slot filled with something or other, which is why he ran up against it. Keep that in mind: Just because we have PCI and plug and play these days, doesn’t mean you won’t ever see an interrupt conflict. On a well-expanded system, this ancient problem can occasionally rear its ugly head (while Microchannel required their cards to be capable of interrupt sharing; PCI only *recommends* it–so not every PCI device can share an interrupt, particularly if an ISA device has grabbed it. Alas, Microchannel fell victim to IBM’s greedy overly restrictive licensing terms and raw-dead-fish marketing, so as a result we have cheap PCs today but more headaches than we necessarily need. Speaking of raw-dead-fish marketing, I could mention that the Amiga’s Zorro bus had true plug and play and hundreds of interrupts from Day One in 1985, but nobody wants to hear that. Oops, I said it anyway.)

This problem used to happen all the time when people would put their modems on COM4 and a serial mouse on COM2 (or COM1 and 3). Since those ports by default shared interrupts with one another, you got goofy symptoms like your Internet connection dropping whenever you moved the mouse. People don’t configure their COM ports that way anymore, which is what’s made that problem so rare.

I think I finally got that G4 deployed. Wednesday it decided it didn’t want to shut down, and I had to reinstall the OS to fix it. Then on Thursday, it decided it didn’t want to recognize the mouse button anymore. I still don’t know what exactly I did to fix that–I booted off a spare MacOS 9 partition, ran a battery of disk repair tools and a defragmenter, and the problem went away. So while Mac users can snicker about interrupt problems, their machines aren’t exactly immune to weird problems either.

——-

From: “Gialluca, Tony”

question: RE Optimizing Windows and Temp files

Hi Mr. Farquhar,

In you book on page 112 you discuss placing temp files on a ramdisk. On this page you show an example where:

Set temp=ram disk letter:\temp Set tmp=ram disk letter:\temp

Shouldn’t you also include changing

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\explorer\Volum eCaches\Temporary files\folder] to “ram disk letter:\temp” also ??

Per the description

([HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\explorer\Volu meCaches\Temporary files\description]) says: “Programs sometimes store temporary information in a TEMP folder. Before a program closes, it usually deletes this information.\r\n\r\nYou can safely delete temporary files that have not been modified in over a week.” The only potential pitfall that I can think of is if windows or programs (say during installations) need this area to remain persistant through reboots, even though the files may be of
a temporary nature…

Your thoughts would be appreciated …

Respectfully,

Tony

———-

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know that registry key existed (nor did the book’s technical reviewers, evidently). That registry key, too, should be changed, yes. Thanks!

You are correct that if a program does a hard reboot (rather than just exiting to real mode and reloading Windows), you’ll lose the contents of the ramdisk and thus the temp folder. Fortunately, most programs seem to use the temp directory the way they’re supposed to–for temporary, fleeting things. Now if they’d just learn to clean up after themselves…

Of course, this also applies to my advice on creating a temp partition, on page 62.

Thanks much; this is very good information.

———-

From: “Gary M. Berg”

Subject: Maxtor hard drives

Since you’ve been talking about WD and Maxtor hard drives…

I heard rumors just after Win2K SP1 came out that the service pack had problems with machines with Maxtor hard drives. I’ve not been able to find much of anything else on this. What have you heard?

———-

That’s a new one to me. Maybe another reader has heard something, but it sure seems odd. I can’t imagine Microsoft didn’t test SP1 on the major drive manufactuers’ drives (Fujitsu, IBM, Maxtor, Quantum, Samsung, Seagate, and Western Digital), and with Maxtor being one of the Big Two in retail….

Once I get my current big project off my back this weekend, I’m half-tempted to try it just to see. Unless someone already has…

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