The joy of teaching

The joy of teaching. Remember that Pentium-75 that was limping along under Windows NT’s heavy yoke? She didn’t complain to me about it (probably because she knew I did a lot to try to make it usable), but she did complain to some other people. One of the other IT guys did some lobbying. And when I said that a Mac would be an improvement over that thing, it got some people’s attention. (I’m not exactly known as a Mac zealot at work. Some call me exactly the opposite.) So she got another machine.
Well, as it turns out, she’s taking a class titled Management of Information Systems. She called me up yesterday to ask me a few questions relating to the class. Sure, says I. She asked about a mainframe’s place in a Webcentric world, which really made me think. I’m not of the mainframe generation, and I left the computer science program at the University of Missouri because the only thing they were interested in cranking out at the time were IBM System 370 administrators who knew VM/CMS and JCL. Gag me. I’d rather use and fix Macs. But retrofitting certainly makes more sense than outright replacement in many cases.

Then she asked about NCs. I laughed, because my now-defunct Linux book was to have a chapter about NCs in it (and how to roll your own). “Why didn’t they catch on?” she asked. Two reasons, I said. Poor marketing, for one. Larry Ellison assumes that everyone hates Microsoft as much as he does, so he releases this overpriced box and says little about it other than “Not Microsoft.” The second reason, of course, is versatility. People like the versatility of their PCs. NCs have none.

Then she asked a sharp question. “Isn’t this the same thing we do with Reflection?” (Reflection is a very high-priced VTxx terminal emulator from WRQ, Inc. that we use to connect to a cluster of VMS boxes.) Ah, she gets it! Yes, only NCs pull Windows and Windows applications (or another GUI and GUI applications) instead of text-based programs.

“This stuff doesn’t even seem real,” she said at one point. “And here you are, talking right off the top of your head about it.” But at the end of the conversation, she seemed to get it.

And that’s what’s cool about writing books or maintaining a Web site. Lighting up the darkness. Making the unfamiliar make sense. Or at least a little more sense.

My phone was ringing off the hook today. I made a comment about my popularity rising. One of my office-mates suggested I run for president. Well, I said, I couldn’t do any worse of a job of carrying Florida… But I won’t be of legal age until 2012.

I guess that’s the last thing I have to look forward to. At 16 you can drive. At 17 you can get into R-rated movies. At 18 you can vote. At 21 you can drink. At 25, your insurance rates go down. And at 35, you can run for president.


I remembered seeing an article a while back concerning this person’s issue:

It is an optimization guide for the K6-2+ (also K6-III+, but not
explicitly stated) processors, and it includes a board compatibility guide.

According to the guide, the FIC VA-503+ will only support the new
processors with a beta bios (doesn’t mention specific versions) and revision 1.2 of the board.

I’m CC’ing a copy of this to Curtis.


Dustin D. Cook, A+

I didn’t get this message, except when Curtis replied to me. I’ll have to investigate.
Thanks much for the tip.

Doesn’t anybody else feel impelled to mention that a 50MHz (for in this case >12.5%) speed gain is completely valueless? As you surely know, Dave, in ordinary use people don’t usually notice any speed change that’s much finer than 2x. I’d take a 12%-faster CPU and pop it into my system if 1) somebody gave it to me for nothing, and 2) it was a no-brainer plop-in install. Otherwise, there are better uses for $60. Ya think?

Peter A. Moore
ITS Engineer
Precision IT, a division of Precision Design Systems

in reference to:
My understanding was he wanted to get that CPU because he was using his 400 MHz CPU in another system.

Yes, you are entirely right, a 50 MHz gain generally isn’t worth it. You could make an argument for when it’s a 50 MHz gain accompanied by something else, say, an upgrade from a K6-2/400 to a K6-III/450, in which case you’d get a larger gain, maybe 25-35 percent, due to on-chip cache. But with CPU speed being a fairly small factor in overall system performance, that 35% increase definitely won’t work miracles.

When upgrading a system, I generally attack system RAM and the hard drive first. It’s amazing what a difference dropping in a 7200-rpm hard drive makes. I recently made a P200 boot Win95 in 15 seconds by replacing the drive, dropping in another 64 megs of RAM, then doing a fresh Windows installation and tweaking msdos.sys. Very nice.

Good observation. Thanks.

An Optimizing Windows followup?

Optimizing Windows NT for Games, Graphics and Multimedia or Whatever… I occasionally get a question whether there’ll ever be such a beast. O’Reilly and I discussed it in the past, with little interest. (In fact when we were negotiating Optimizing Windows, I wanted it to be an NT book, and they asked if I knew Win9x well enough to write about that instead.)

There’s the possibility that another publisher who’s strong in Windows NT/Windows 2000, such as Sybex, might be interested. I haven’t talked to anyone there about it yet. But believe me, I’ve thought about the possibility of such a book.

I tried to write Optimizing Windows in such a way that someone who knew Windows 9x and another OS would then be able to apply the principles to both OSes, even though the specifics would only apply to 9x.

In the meantime, the best suggestion I can come up with is to take yesterday’s post , print it, then paste it to an otherwise underutilized page (such as the last page of the preface, which is totally blank). While it doesn’t go into great detail, that message could well form the basis of a chapter in an NT/2000 follow-on. I’d say at least half of chapter 2 in Optimizing Windows (particularly the user interface stuff) applies to NT and 2000 as well.

Laptop troubleshooting. I had a laptop the other day that seemed to launch programs and move the mouse pointer around at will. I’d never seen anything like it before. We were perplexed about it for a couple of hours (it was a deployed user in California, so it wasn’t like I could just tool over to his desk and start trying stuff). On a hunch, he unplugged everything and powered up the bare laptop. It worked fine. He started adding components one at a time, and when he got to the mouse, the problem reappeared.

Constant travel and frequent plugging and unplugging certainly could be hard on the mouse cable, so I can see where this might be a common problem for road warriors (I’d say 90 percent of my support experience is desktop PCs). So, if you’re getting unexplainable behavior from a PC, especially a laptop, try a different mouse — and a different external keyboard too, while you’re at it — and see if that makes the problem go away.

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.


Poor Windows 98 Network Performance. The MTU once again reared its ugly head at work yesterday. A 1.5 meg file was taking five minutes to copy. Forget about copying anything of respectable size–we’re talking about an all-day affair here. A perplexed colleague called me and asked why. Once again I suspected MTU tinkering. After setting the MTU back to the default of 1500 (the best value to use on a LAN), we were able to copy a 53-meg file in about 30 seconds, which was of course a tremendous improvement.

Once again, don’t run the MTU optimizers on computers that’ll be used on a LAN. The slight increase in modem speed isn’t worth crippling your network performance.

Basic Mac/PC networking. A friend passed along a question about how to build a network either a Mac or a PC could talk on. That can become a complex subject (I wonder if it’s worthy of a book?), but here are the basics.

If all you need is for the Macs to talk to Macs and PCs to talk to PCs, go to the local computer store and pick up a 100-megabit hub with enough ports to accomodate your machines, cables for your Macs, and network cards for your PCs if they don’t already have them. Get a quality hub and cards–the only really inexpensive brand I trust anymore is Netgear, and the general consensus is that 3Com and Intel are better still, though they’ll cost you more. I’ve been bitten by enough failures to decide that $15 network cards and $25 hubs just aren’t worth the trouble.

The Macs should just start talking via the AppleTalk protocol once you direct AppleTalk to the Ethernet port through the AppleTalk control panel. The PCs will need network card drivers installed, then they can use TCP/IP, NetBEUI or IPX/SPX to communicate. Best to use TCP/IP to limit the number of protocols on your network. Assign your PCs and Macs IP addresses in the 192.168.1.x range, with a subnet mask of You don’t need to worry about the gateway or router settings unless you’ll be using the network to provide Internet access as well.

If you want Internet access, you can add an inexpensive cable/DSL router for about $150 that will serve your PCs and Macs without any problems. Assign your router to

Most mid-range HP and Lexmark laser printers will accept a network card capable of talking to both PCs and Macs.

If you want to share files cross-platform, you’re looking at some bucks. You’ll want a Windows NT or 2000 server (AppleShare IP will talk to both, but it’s not as reliable as NT unfortunately), which will set you back about $1000 for the software. Alternatively, you could install DAVE ( ), a product that makes Macs speak SMB over TCP/IP like Windows boxes will, so they can use Windows file shares and Windows-hosted printers.

I also see that Thursby is offering a program called MacSOHO, at $99, to accomodate PC/Mac networks. This isn’t suitable for large networks but for a small-scale LAN in the home, small business, school computer lab or church, it should suffice. You can download a trial version before you plunk down the cash.


That Mac problem again. I snuck up to that Mac server I was referring to earlier this week, you know, the one that was beyond my capability to fix? I continue to maintain that no Mac is beyond any experienced tech’s capability to fix (just like no PC is beyond an experienced tech’s ability to fix). However, a Mac is a high-maintenance machine. Normal, typical use of a Mac will cause numerous filesystem errors to build up over time. I’ve heard of people running the full battery of utilities suites once a week to keep their Macs happy. Once a month is probably adequate for most.

Anyway, on with the story. The whole department was out for a long lunch, which gave me an hour and a half. That’s long enough to run DiskWarrior and TechTool Pro (this machine has seven drives on it, and some of them are in excess of seven years old so it takes a while). They marveled that afternoon about how their problem had corrected itself. Can a PC do that?

Grrr…. Sure it can. Especially if a tech can get some time alone with it.

Ray, Ray, Ray… Why aren’t you running your site on Lotus Domino and Solaris or AIX? I try to connect to, and what do I get?

Error Occurred While Processing Request
Error Diagnostic Information
An error occurred while attempting to establish a connection to the service.

The most likely cause of this problem is that the service is not currently running. You can use the ‘Services’ Control Panel to verify that the service is running and to restart it if necessary.

Windows NT error number 2 occurred.

On the other hand, an up-and-down Web server is a very good indication that people want your product.

Now that I’ve seen some screenshots and read some more interviews to get into Ray Ozzie’s mind a little deeper, I’m starting to get Groove. This isn’t so much warmed-over Notes, I think, as it is instant messaging done right. It’s instant messaging. It’s file transfer. It’s got a sketchpad for drawing ideas for sharing. Of course there’s a Web browser window. It’s infinitely extensible (like Notes). And it’ll let you talk voice if you prefer.

I did finally manage to download it but I haven’t had a chance to install and play with it yet. But I can already think of ways I’d use it. I’d even collaborate with myself. Leave stuff I need frequently in my Groove space on my machines at work. So what if I’m in the wrong building, or worse yet, I’m at home? No problem, connect to myself and get it. (Don’t laugh; if you think instant messaging myself is bad, you’ll love the fact that I sometimes send packages to myself.) For people like me who are called upon to do three peoples’ jobs, this could be a Godsend. And once those other two people get hired, we can still use Groove to work together.

Bigger than Netscape 1.0? I think those predictors have gotten sucked into the Cult of Ray a little too deep. Is it a big deal? Oh yeah. Bigger than Notes? Probably.

As for multiplatform support… Groove opted to support, for now, the 85-90 percent of the market that runs Windows. In interviews, Ray Ozzie has said Linux and Mac OS X ports will appear. Seeing as three years ago, Linux looked poised to become a force in the server arena but not yet on the desktop and the classic Mac OS looked to be replaced any day with what became Mac OS X, it looks to me like the company made a practical decision to go with what they knew would be around and adjust course as needed. Notes eventually appeared on every major platform, which contributed to its success. I have no doubt Groove will probably follow. I’m certainly not going to hold it against him that the only version to have reached beta is Win32.

Sounds cards, hard drives, and initial dual G4 impressions

The underwhelming dual G4. I had a conversation Tuesday with someone who was thinking about ditching his PII to get a dual G4 because he thought it would be faster. I guess he thought if he got VirtualPC or SoftWindows, a dual G4/500 would run like a dual PIII/500 or something, plus give him access to all the Mac software. Nice try.
I’m sure one of these dual G4s would make an outstanding Linux box, but the loss of binary compatibility with all the x86 software is something. Sure you can recompile, but there are those instances where that isn’t an option. And under Mac OS 9, that second CPU sits idle most of the time. Photoshop and a couple of other apps use it, but the OS doesn’t–certainly not to the extent that Windows NT or a Unix variant will use a second CPU.

I’m also very disappointed with the hardware. The dual G4 I’m setting up right now has a 124-watt power supply in it. Yes, 124 watts! Now, the PPC chips use less power than an Intel or AMD CPU, and the G4 uses a microATX-like architecture, but they know full well that graphics professionals are going to buy these things and stick four internal hard drives, a Zip, a DVD-RAM, and a gigabyte of RAM inside. Do that, and you don’t have much punch left to power such “non-essentials” as the video card, extra disk controller, and CPUs… This will cause problems down the line. It would seem they’re paying for the extra CPU without increasing the price dramatically by cutting corners elsewhere.

The G4 remains an excellent example of marketing. IBM could invent sushi, but they’d market it as raw, dead fish (which is why they’ve become a non-contender in the PC arena that they created, with the possible exception of the ThinkPad line) while Apple continues to sell sand in the desert. Remarkable.

AMD pricing. The Duron-600 is a great buy right now; according to Sharky Extreme’s CPU pricing, it’s as low as $51. My motherboard vendor of choice,, has the Duron-600 with a Gigabyte 7ZX-1 and fan for $191. Outstanding deal. I’d get a PC Power and Cooling fan for it to replace whatever cheapie they’re bundling.

I prefer Asus motherboards to everything else, but the performance difference between the Gigabyte and Asus offerings is really close (Asus wins some benchmarks by a hair, Gigabyte wins others, with Asus being a bit better overall but we’re talking differences of under 1-4 percent, barely noticeable). The Gigabyte boards cost about $30 less than the Asus. I’m thinking if I were getting a Duron for a value system, I’d go Gigabyte; if I were looking for a Thunderbird-based performance system, I’d go Asus.

I plan to see how Naturally Speaking fares on my Celeron; if it’s not quick enough for me I’ll probably retire my trusty K6-2/350 and replace the board with a Duron or Thunderbird.

Voice recognition. I got my Andrea ANC-600 mic on Monday. Since Naturally Speaking and the SB Live! card hadn’t even shipped yet, I went ahead and put the ANC-600 on my Celeron-400 (still equipped with an ESS sound card) and fired up ViaVoice. The ANC-600 eliminated the background noise and increased accuracy noticeably. ViaVoice still tended to mess up a word per sentence, but at least it was in the neighborhood (it had real problems with past/present tense) and its speed was a little better, though it still tended to drag behind me. The SB Live! should help that; as should the newer software’s reliance on newer processor architecture (ViaVoice 97 was designed with the Pentium-MMX in mind, rather than the PII/Celeron or something newer). I await Naturally Speaking’s arrival with much, much greater confidence now.

From: Dan Bowman

Maxtor HDDs

And the CompUSA down the street always has a good deal on them…

This week, Office Depot is selling Maxtor 15gig drives for $99. That’s a “Warlock’s Mirror” for a little over $200 with tax.




Windows NT profile weirdness: A cure?

From: Malcolm James
Subject: NT switches between local and roaming profiles [comment on View 10]
I just saw your question “Anyone ever seen NT switch between local and roaming profiles?” in View 10.

This used to happen to me too, about once every two months on average, but sometimes twice in the same week.. Using NT4.0J SP4 on a peer-to-peer NT workstation domain with no NT servers, NT occasionally created a new profile when I logged on. The old profile got renamed to username.bak, just as your analyst reported. Renaming the old profile and reconnecting shares puts everything back to normal.

We couldn’t find a documented solution, but one suspect was the size of the profile — 320MB, including an Outlook Express mailstore in its default location within the profile. Eventually I relocated the mailstore to a different partition and the not-recognizing-the-profile problem seems to have gone away. We still have no proof that the size of the profile was the cause..

Another suspect was that at one stage we’d had NT setup with the local profile pathname explicitly named in the profile section of the user manager. We later deleted it when we realized the pathname was only needed for remote profiles, but it may have left the registry confused at some point.