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Running ancient DOS games on modern Windows

So today I was one of at least two people trying to help Jerry Pournelle get the original Railroad Tycoon running under Windows XP. The secret is DOSBox, a cross-platform DOS emulator.DOSBox emulates a 386-class PC, with VGA and a SoundBlaster, under multiple operating systems–most notably, Linux and Win32. It’s pretty slick in a number of ways. Boot it up, and you’ve instantly got sound configured and 637K of conventional memory available, along with enough extended memory to round out 16 megs. All without messing around with arcane and archaic memory manager commands in config.sys. (Remember that?)

When Jerry last e-mailed me, the game was running but he was having difficulty getting the mouse to work, even when hitting ctrl-f10 to lock the mouse. I suspect it’s easier to get PS/2 mice to work with the emulator than USB mice, as under Windows USB is a different driver. But I’m not certain. I’m still trying to find my box of old DOS games so I can even test the emulator properly. Based on his site, it looks like he got it working, but didn’t elaborate on what it took. I don’t blame him–if I’d just gotten the original Railroad Tycoon running again, I think I’d have better things to do than write back a dozen people to say, “It works.”

Because DOSBox actually emulates everything and doesn’t rely on the hardware, you need a GHz-plus machine to get 486 speed out of it. That’s the price you pay for higher compatibility. The cardinal rule of emulation has always been that any machine can perfectly emulate any other machine as long as speed is not a factor. Fortunately, those aren’t especially rare or expensive these days.

I’m definitely going to keep looking for that box of old floppies. My 1.3 GHz Athlon ought to run that old DOS stuff pretty well, I would think. I’ve been wishing for about six or seven years that something like this would come along. Long enough that I wasn’t even ready for it when it appeared in a reasonably mature state…

So there is a uClibc-based Linux distribution

I think I found just what I needed. Somehow I overlooked it before. Right there on Erik Anderson’s uClibc page, near the bottom, there’s his uClibc development environment. What is it? A Linux distribution based on his uClibc, busybox and tinylogin userspace in addition to enough GNU tools to compile other stuff. If you don’t want all 150 megs’ worth, download his makefile and uncomment just the stuff you want.
It’s not a general-purpose Linux distribution. It’s intended as a development environment. But besides that, it would be perfect for running on a low-end PC, like a 386 or 486 laptop. You get the benefits of a modern kernel and a modern, in-development libc, but with everything designed to lower memory consumption. On an older PC with a slow hard disk, that all translates into better performance.

Now I’m not sure how much of a GUI you get, but frankly, an older laptop, especially a network-capable one, with this stuff and the excellent Links web browser, the machine would be useful. If SVGAlib and the SVGAlib-capable version of Links compile, then you could even have a graphical web browser on a low-octane machine. Wouldn’t that be cool?

The Sapphire Radeon 7000

The last bit of hardware from my recent shopping spree that I’ll look at is the Sapphire Radeon 7000. This card is manufactured by Sapphire using an ATI chip.
Newegg sells several versions of this card and the prices start at $31. The most basic card is just that, basic: 32 megs of SDRAM and plain old VGA out. I stepped up to a higher-end version of the card, which offers 64 megs of DDR and S-video and composite out. I think that’s worth the extra five bucks I paid.

What can I say? It’s a budget card at a budget price. But when I bought my STB Velocity 128 card with the nVidia Riva128 chipset, it was a performance card. The gap in performance between this Radeon and the Riva128 feels as big as the gap between the Riva and the first Trident-based PCI video card I ever bought, back in 1995.

I tried one in a Celeron-366 and in a 1.3 GHz Duron. Its performance in the Duron was higher. Clearly the CPU was the bottleneck in the Celeron system.

The 7000 lacks some features that high-end gaming cards have. It has fewer pipelines than the higher-end Radeons, and half the memory bandwidth. It also lacks some of the hardware texture and lighting features you expect to find in a performance card of today.

But not everybody cares about those things. It plays Civilization 3 and Railroad Tycoon II just fine, thank you very much, and for word processing and e-mail and Web browsing the memory bandwidth isn’t terribly critical and the rendering pipelines and T&L are completely irrelevant. If you’re into productivity software and strategy games, a Radeon 7000 will treat you right and leave money in your pocket for other things.

Radeon support under Linux is good, mostly because a lot of new Macs have been shipping with Radeons for the past couple of years. Support under Windows, of course, is a non-issue.

The TV out support is nice if your system sports a DVD drive; in a pinch your computer can fill in for your DVD player. The card offers MPEG-2 acceleration, which is nice if your system has an aging CPU in it. Armed with a Radeon 7000 and a DVD drive, my Celeron-366 still dropped frames occasionally, but fewer than it did with an older card.

This card is overmatched in a monster gaming rig, but if you’re looking to put a little more punch in a two-year-old PC, this is a cheap way to get it. If you’re building a new PC and don’t care about 3D gaming performance, one of these $36 Radeon 7000s is all the card you need. Probably more. It’ll allow you to sink some money into something that’ll help your overall performance out more, like a faster hard drive or more memory. Or SCSI. 🙂 As far as I’m concerned, this card is a superstar for the price of a wanna-be. Go get it.

Video editing on a shoestring

When you go to a church like Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Dayton, Ohio, or St. John’s Lutheran Church in Ellisville, Mo., it’s easy to get overwhelmed with their video productions. They produce slick, professional, grabbing pieces that wouldn’t look out of place on broadcast TV.
Then you go look at their production studios, and feel overwhelmed. I know one of the computers St. John’s uses cost $10,000. That’s not counting the video decks and cameras. You can spend $50,000 to get the stuff you “need” to get serious about making movies.

I don’t have 50 grand and I don’t know anyone who does. If I were getting into this today, these are the things I would buy:

1. Computer. Get an IBM-compatible. All the critical apps for editing are available on PCs, and you can get a PC for next to nothing. Yes, you can edit on an iMac. I wouldn’t want to. At Faith Lutheran Church in Oakville, we edit on a P4 1.5 GHz. I can’t remember if it has 128 or 256 MB of RAM. It does have two 10K RPM SCSI drives. I suggest buying a PC with a gigahertz-plus CPU, DDR memory to be sure (yes, SDRAM is cheap, but speed of memory seems to be more important than quantity–you should be perfectly happy with 256 MB of DDR), and a couple of SCSI drives. Today’s IDE drives are fast enough for pure DV work, but you might not always have DV sources. Use some of the money you save by not buying a Mac to buy SCSI drives. A pair of 36-gig drives was sufficient to produce a 22-minute documentary with room to spare.

Hint: Get your SCSI drives at www.hypermicro.com. Fast delivery, good prices, great customer service. They don’t give me any freebies or any money and I have no affiliation with them. They just have the best prices on SCSI stuff I’ve found.

The budget varies. A $1,000 PC will suffice but you might want more power.

2. Pinnacle DV500. This card is very finicky, so go to www.pinnaclesys.com and look at their installation guides. Buy a motherboard or system they have a guide for. Follow their instructions precisely. I got the DV500 to work on a motherboard Pinnacle didn’t test, but it took me a week.

There are other boards from Matrox and Canopus. The boards look good on paper. I’m not familiar with them. If you compare them with a DV500 and their offerings look better, feel free to get one of them. I haven’t looked, because I was in the market a year ago and at the time the DV500 was the best. I don’t look now because I might be tempted to buy.

Whatever you get, make sure it comes with Adobe Premiere or Sonicfoundry Vegas Video at a minimum. Most boards throw in some titling software and other extras. You want them. Titling isn’t Premiere’s forte. Pinnacle’s titling app is so simple to use, it’s frightening. Remember, Premiere costs mosre on its own than these editing boards, and these boards accelerate some of Premiere’s functions.

I like Premiere but it’s what I leanred. Some people tell me Vegas is easier to learn initially.

The other thing these boards give you, besides acceleration of some video functions, is firewire ports and composite and S-Video inputs and outputs, which you’ll need at the very least for video preview, and for taking video input from analog sources.

Budget $500.

3. Monitors. A dual-head display isn’t a necessity but it’s nice if you can afford to do it. I use a 19-inch NEC Multisync (the model I have is discontinued), and Faith uses the same monitor. A pair of NEC or Mitsubishi monitors would be nice. Get a 19 and a 17 or two 17s if your budget is tight. But we survive just fine on single 19s. Budget at least $200.

A video monitor is a must because your video will look different on TV than it does on your SVGA monitors. A $70 13-inch TV from a local discount house will do fine as long as it has composite inputs, as most do today. I use an old Commodore 1702 monitor (the standard-issue monitor for the Commodore 64) and it’s fabulous, but those are in short supply today. A monitor with S-Video inputs would be nice, but I like to look at my video on lowest-common-denominator equipment. If the device has both types on inputs, hook them both up and check how your work looks both ways. Budget $99.

4. VCR. You’ll need one. The nicer the better, of course, but if all you can afford is a $60 discount house model or a hand-me-down, that’s fine. You’ll be asked for VHS copies of your work, and sometimes you’ll have to use VHS as a source. Budget $75.

5. Camera. I learned on JVC cameras so I’m partial to them. Digital-8 is cheaper, but MiniDV is the emerging standard. If you shop around, you can find a MiniDV camera for under $500, especially if you’re willing to buy a refurb. Nice extras are image stabilization and inputs for an external microphone. You can live without those, but it’s best if you can get them. And you definitely need a tripod. Get one with a fluid head for smooth motion. I bought the cheapest Bogan fluid-head tripod ($130 at a local camera shop) and love it. Budget $650.

6. Lights. Talk to a photographer. We haven’t bought any yet, and it shows.

Assuming you already have a suitable PC and monitor, you can get going for under $1,500. Later, you’ll want to add Adobe AfterEffects and a good sound editor, and more cameras, and more lights, and you’ll work your way towards 50 grand. But the most important thing is to have stories to tell. Tell great stories, and people will find money to fund your video work.

First look: The Proliant DL320

I’ve had the opportunity the past two days to work with Compaq’s Proliant DL320, an impossibly thin 1U rack-mount server. All I can say is I’m impressed.
When I was in college, a couple of the nearby pizza joints sold oversized 20″ pizzas. The DL320 reminded me of the boxes these pizzas came in. The resemblance isn’t lost on IBM: In its early ads for a competing product, I remember IBM using an impossibly thin young female model holding a 1U server on a pizza-joint set.

HP announced last week that Compaq’s Proliant series will remain basically unchanged, it will just be re-branded with the HP name. HP had no product comparable to the DL320.

I evaluated the entry-level model. It’s a P3 1.13 GHz with 128 MB RAM, dual Intel 100-megabit NICs, and a single 40-gigabyte 7200-rpm Maxtor/Quantum IDE drive. It’s not a heavy-duty server, but it’s not designed to be. It’s designed for businesses that need to get a lot of CPU power into the smallest possible amount of rack space. And in that regard, the DL320 delivers.

Popping the hood reveals a well-designed layout. The P3 is near the front, with three small fans blowing right over it. Two more fans in the rear of the unit pull air out, and two fans in the power supply keep it cool. The unit has four DIMM sockets (one occupied). There’s room for one additional 3.5″ hard drive, and a single 64-bit PCI slot. Obvious applications for that slot include a gigabit Ethernet adapter or a high-end SCSI host adapter. The machine uses a ServerWorks chipset, augmented by a CMD 649 for UMDA-133 support. Compaq utilizes laptop-style floppy and CD-ROM drives to cram all of this into a 1U space.

The fit and finish is very good. The machine looks and feels solid, not flimsy, which is a bit surprising for a server in this price range. Looks-wise, it brings back memories of the old DEC Prioris line.

The rear of the machine has a fairly spartan number of ports: PS/2 keyboard and mouse, two RJ-45 jacks, VGA, one serial port, and two USB ports. There’s no room for luxuries, and such things as a parallel port are questionable in this type of server anyway.

Upon initial powerup, the DL320 asks a number of questions, including what OS you want to run. Directly supported are Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000, Novell NetWare, and Linux.

Linux installs quickly and the 2.4.18 kernel directly supports the machine’s EtherExpress Pro/100 NICs, CMD 649 IDE, and ServerWorks chipset. A minimal installation of Debian 3.0 booted in 23 seconds, once the machine finished POST. After compiling and installing a kernel with support for all the hardware not in the DL320 removed, that boot time dropped to 15 seconds. That’s less time than it takes for the machine to POST.

Incidentally, that custom kernel was a scant 681K in size. It was befitting of a server with this kind of footprint.

As configured, the DL320 is more than up to the tasks asked of low-end servers, such as user authentication, DNS and DHCP, and mail, file and print services for small workgroups. It would also make a nice applications server, since the applications only need to load once. It would also be outstanding for clustering. For Web server duty or heavier-duty mail, file and print serving, it would be a good idea to upgrade to one of the higher-end DL320s that includes SCSI.

It’s hard to find fault with the DL320. At $1300 for an IDE configuration, it’s a steal. A SCSI-equipped version will run closer to $1900.

04/08/2001

The Kansas City press is already talking about how much they miss Johnny Damon since the Royals got off to their 0-4 start. ‘Scuse me? Am I the only one who remembers how Johnny Damon normally hits under .200 the first month of the season? And am I the only one who checked and saw that he’s hitting .133 for Oakland at the moment?

Johnny Damon is a non-factor until June. Meanwhile, his trade got the Royals a proven closer and a throw-in backup catcher that it turned out they need. And they needed Roberto Hernandez yesterday when they got their first win.

How far we’ve come… While I was hunting down tax paperwork yesterday (found it!), I ran across a stash of ancient computer magazines. For grins, I pulled out the May 1992 issue of Compute, which celebrated the release of Windows 3.1. I would have received this magazine nine years ago this month.

Some tidbits I liked:

“Windows 3.0… entered a hostile world. OS/2 loomed on the horizon like a dragon ready to devour us, and MS-DOS, stuck in version 4.0, had lost its momentum. It looked as if Digital Research…was the only company trying to make DOS better.” –Clifton Karnes, pg 4

That’s what happens when there’s no strong competition. I don’t get the OS/2 and dragon metaphor though. What, people didn’t want a computer that worked right? I didn’t get it at the time. I had an Amiga, which at the time offered OS/2 features and a good software library.

“Some people even started talking about Unix.” Ibid.

Some things never change.

“The masses are happy, and nobody talks about Unix much anymore.” Ibid.

That certainly changed.

“You can now buy a 200 MB drive for just $500.” –Mark Minasi, pg 58

I’ve got some 200-meg hard drives that I’d absolutely love to get $500 for. You’ve got my e-mail address. And while we’re at it, would you like some snake oil? That now-laughable line was from a Mark Minasi column talked about strategies for getting drives larger than 512 MB working. Strangely, that problem still rears its ugly head more often than it should, and its descendant problem, getting a drive bigger than 8 gigs working, is even more common.

“A 286-based notebook is a very capable machine; with a decent-size hard disk and a portable mouse, you could even run Windows applications on one (except for those requiring enhanced mode performance such as Excel).” –Peter Scisco, pg 72

Don’t let any of the end users I support read that line. That’s funny. Later in the same article, Scisco discusses the problem of battery life, a struggle we still live with.

“The last dozen modems I’ve installed here at Compute have been compact models. It’s almost like the manufacturers are trying to get better mileage by leaving out parts and making the cards smaller. These modems don’t reject line noise very well.” –Richard Leinecker, pg. 106

Now there’s a problem that only got worse with time.

An ad from Computer Direct on page 53 offered a 16 MHz 386SX with a meg of RAM and dual floppy drives (no hard drive) for $399. Your $399 gets you a lot more these days, but that was an incredible deal at the time. A complete system with a 14-inch VGA monitor and 40-meg HD ran $939. The same vendor offered an external CD-ROM drive (everything was a 1X in these days) for $399.

An ad on page 63 proclaimed the availability of the epic game Civilization, for “IBM-PC/Tandy/Compatibles.” Yes, these were the days when you could still buy a PC at Radio Shack and expect to be taken seriously.

Weird week. On Tuesday, cold season gave way to allergy season, and it happened over the course of a couple of hours. Winter’s attempted comeback fell flat on its face, and spring arrived, bringing with it temperatures in the 70s, and the two things St. Louis is known for more than anything else: humidity and pollen.

In recent years pollen hasn’t bothered me much, but whatever’s in the air this time around bothered me enough to think the cold I shook last week had relapsed on me. But then I figured out that when I stayed in my air-conditioned office, I had no problems. At home, where I haven’t turned on the AC yet, I do. So I finally broke down and got some antihistamines, which never used to make me drowsy. They do this year. Go figure.

Last week I still had the heater going because it was cool enough at night that my apartment would drop to 60 degrees by morning if I didn’t. Normally I refuse to turn on my AC before mid-May out of principle, so turning on the AC less than a week after I was running the heat is ridiculous.

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.

Troubleshooting Mac extensions

Troubleshooting Macintosh extensions. An extensions conflict is where you lose your innocence with fixing a Mac. Not all extensions and control panels get along, and certain combinations can have disastrous results.

Here’s my method. Create a folder on the desktop. Drag exactly half the extensions out of System Folder:Extensions and drop them in the folder. Select all the extensions in that new folder and give them a label, so they stand out (it makes them a different color). Now reboot and see if the problem goes away. If it doesn’t, create another folder, move the remaining extensions into it and give them a label. Move the first batch back into the extensions folder and reboot.

Now, add half your extensions back from the folder on the desktop to the extensions folder. If the problem comes back, move that half back into the second folder on the desktop and move the now-known good half into the extensions folder. After each test, remove the labels from the extensions in the extensions folder. Just keep swapping halves until you narrow it down to one bad extension, using labels to keep yourself from getting lost.

I don’t recommend Conflict Catcher because all it does is move the extensions around for you–it’s no easier than this method, and this method doesn’t cost $50.

This is how we build ’em in St. Louis. Neither Gatermann nor I are really in the habit of naming our PCs unless a name is just painfully obvious. In the case of his Linux gateway, the name was painfully obvious. One name and one name only fits: Mir.

This is how we build computers in St. Louis. This is Tom Gatermann’s Linux gateway: a Micronics P75 board with a Cirrus Logic PCI SVGA card, a Kingston PCI NE2000 clone connecting to the Internet, and a Bay Netgear 310TX PCI 10/100 (DEC Tulip chipset) connecting to the local LAN. Yes, that AT case was as cheap as it looks. Maybe cheaper.

Inside the case, there’s an IMES 8X IDE CD-ROM, an ancient 1.44 MB floppy drive of unknown origin, and a 1.2 GB Quantum Bigfoot HD, of which about 1.5 MB is used (booting’s much faster off the HD than off the floppy).

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Mir is made from, well, a pile of junk. A Micronics P75 board. A Cirrus Logic PCI SVGA card. Whatever 72-pin SIMMs we had laying around. A Quantum Bigfoot 1.2-gig HD. A really trashed 3.5″ floppy drive. The cheapest-looking AT case ever. But we did skip the Linksys NICs. The NICs are a Kingston PCI NE2000 clone and a Bay Netgear 10/100 based on the DEC Tulip chipset.

We assembled it outside the case because we had so much trouble getting it going correctly–it’s much easier to swap components when they’re accessible. Once we got it going, we never bothered to put everything back inside the case. Maybe we’re trend-setters and this is the next fad in computing. After all, what’s the logical next step after translucency?

12/05/2000

The Asus A7V motherboard and Unix. I’ve been seeing a lot of search engine hits with phrases containing “Asus A7V” and various Unix bretheren (NetBSD and Linux, most recently). I know exactly what posting is turning up under that query–the dream system of a few weeks back.

Is there something weird about the A7V and the BSDs and Linux that people should know about? Installation difficulties? Or are people just trying to confirm compatibility?

Any of you intrepid searchers care to comment? I have to admit, you’ve got me curious.

When replying to reader mail, remember that we spam-filter the addresses. I insert the word “nospam” into the address somewhere, in order to prevent this site from being a bonanza of e-mail addresses for spammers. You can reply by clicking their link, but remove the “nospam.” in their e-mail address before hitting your Send button.

I like reader mail because it builds community, but I hate spam and don’t want that penalty for readers who participate.

I used to keep a trap for spambots on the page, but this is more effective. Though maybe I should set a trap again. Depends on how vindictive I feel, I guess.

Disable your screen saver before playing DOS games inside Windows. I forgot to mention this little tidbit in Optimizing Windows, and I also forgot to mention it in my upcoming Computer Shopper UK article, which is about getting cantankerous DOS games running, even under the reputedly DOS-unfriendly Windows Me.

The games will run, but if you’re sitting there thinking for a long time and your screen saver kicks in at the wrong moment, your system may freeze. Doesn’t seem to happen all that often, but it happened to me yesterday when I was playing The Secret of Monkey Island (I’d forgotten how much I love that game).

That game also makes me feel old. I first played it on a CGA system. Needless to say, it looks a lot better in VGA.

My standard screen saver advice. Screen savers are generally a bad idea anyway, because most screen savers do more harm than good these days. In the days of low refresh rates, images could burn into the screen’s phosphers if the screen sat idle for too long. The high-refresh monitors made since 1994 or so are largely immune to this. But people continue to use screen savers out of the mistaken belief that they’re good for your computer, or because of tradition, or because they look cool.

The more colors a monitor has to display in rapid succession, the more likely it is to deterriorate quickly. The easiest color for your monitor to display is black, because all the guns are off. Keep a rapidly changing image up on the screen, and your monitor actually ends up working harder. As does your CPU–the 3D screen savers make your CPU work harder than Word and Excel and Outlook do. Combined. This increases heat and electrical usage, two things that businesses tend to worry about a lot. They buy green PCs, then keep their energy-saving features from ever truly kicking in (other than spinning down the disk, the savings of which is negligible) by not banning screen savers. Yet they think they’re being all eco-friendly.

Case point: one of the PCs I use at work was first used by a contractor we let go back in March after he’d been there about a year. He had every gimmicky blinky obnoxious screen saver out there, and he used them, leaving the monitor on all the time. The monitor still works, but the color is all messed up. The color quality on my ancient NEC MultiSync 3FGe at home is much, much, much better than on this two-year-old Micron-branded monitor.

If you want to treat your monitor right, use the Blank Screen screen saver or another blanker. And don’t fret if you have to disable it from time to time.