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Wednesday mailbag

Short stuff today. There’s mail on nostalgia and my infamous books today, so let’s get right to them.

From: “Jeff Hurchalla”

Subject: optimizing windows – ramdisk

Hello Dave,

First I wanted to thank you for the great book on optimizing windows. I’ve read it all now and picked up quite a bit. I think the book nicely fills a niche for windows tweakers- I know I was looking for it for a while. One thing I noticed, if you do a second ed. you might include information on hard disk setups -how IDE and SCSI work, RAID, and what cable and role(master/slave) to use for that new second IDE hard drive.

One tip to add could be the format /z command when using fat32. This undocumented /z switch sets the cluster size in number of sectors.. so “format /z:64” would create 64 sectors/cluster or 32k clusters. I got this from a while back. You might want to check out their site just for the music recording discussions, never mind that they do a great job describing how to optimize for digital audio(I think the advice is generally applicable for any computer).

I really want to ask you about a problem I’m having when I run windows95(osr2) from ramdisk. I have it working, mostly as described, but user.dat and system.dat are pesky. I had to put these both into the ramdisk hard drive directory(the one with himem.sys. setver.exe, etc) to get it to boot. Io.sys looks at the registry early in the boot process way before it gets to autoexec.bat(where the ramdisk is created). So it’s not trivial to find a way to create the ramdisk and get the registry in there, where I think it belongs, in time to satisfy io.sys. The solution to put the registry in the ramdisk directory isn’t very good because windows constantly updates the registry(and usually for no apparent reason). Do you have any ideas for how to get the registry in the ram early, or how to get windows to switch to using the registry in the ramdisk later on? It would also be ok, though maybe not as satisfying, to somehow set windows to stop automatically updating the registry just because it’s apparently noticed 15 seconds of time has passed. I also thought to use lilo (possibly modified) to do some work with a ramdisk and then load a bootsect.dos, but I don’t know enough to tell if it could work. I used to have linux set up, but everything’s standard right now.

I read in your views that the outlook for your linux/win2k book is not very good. That’s a shame. I’d really like to read it in the future. I hope something works out.

Take care, Jeff


Well, first off, thanks for the compliments. It’s things like that that make the time and effort that go into writing a book worthwhile.

I had forgotten the FAT32 cluster trick; that is a good one but you might as well just use FAT16 if you’re going to make big clusters–unless the 2GB limit bites you. So, yes, I can see it being useful.

I believe I did talk about hard drive setups, but I may have neglected it. Rather than look it up, I’ll be lazy and just state it: Hard drives should always be masters. If you must put two drives on a channel, make the newer, more modern drive the master. RAID would certainly be a good topic, and one that’s sorely missed from the book. I think I did a decent job of predicting some of the up-and-coming stuff, but two things that I missed were IDE RAID and USB networking. They didn’t exist in the summer of 1999 when I wrote the bulk of the book, and I didn’t anticipate them.

The chances of a second edition appear to be pretty slim, unfortunately. I could write another book for another publisher, provided I’m very careful not to violate the copyright I sold to O’Reilly, but I would almost certainly burn some bridges by doing that and that’s not exactly something I want to do, whether I agree with how O’Reilly marketed the book or not. I’m almost hesitant to say anything about it or even mention that possibility.

As for the Linux/W2K book, it’s tough to say what to do with it. There are a lot of things I’d love to say about it, but again, I’d burn some bridges that I probably shouldn’t. A year ago when it looked like both W2K and Linux 2.4 would be released within six months, it looked like a blockbuster book. With 2.4 delayed and W2K failing to take over the world, it’s becoming a tough sell, and frankly I’m getting really sick of the topic. I also know I tend to take some unpopular stances on the issues involved, which probably doesn’t help. If I thought the book would cover the expenses I’d have to outlay to write it, I’d be much more inclined to do it. So far for me, writing for O’Reilly has proven to be a very expensive hobby. (And if anyone from O’Reilly reads my site and doesn’t like hearing me say that, tough.)

I’ll probably re-evaluate after the 2.4 kernel starts firming up some more, and once my wrists start looking like they’ll hold up or I get the hang of NaturallySpeaking. As for my next book, if there is another one, I don’t want it to involve Linux, and I want to write for a small indie publisher who only releases a half-dozen or so books a year.

As for the registry problem in your ramdisk, did you make the modifications to msdos.sys? Specifically, the line WinBootDir parameter must point to the ramdisk, while WinBootDir points to your directory containing the boot files.

The only other thing that I can think of that might cause those symptoms would be if when you installed Windows to the surrogate partition, Setup may have found your old registry and grabbed some data from it, forcing you to keep the registry on your HD rather than in ram.

I messed around with the ramdisk trick for an entire weekend (literally–I didn’t do anything else for two and a half days) getting it to work right, and for all I remember, I may have spent a few evenings preceeding that weekend working on it. I do know this: Microsoft never intended for anyone to do that, which of course just made me all the more determined to do it.

Let me know if that doesn’t fix the problem, because I’m really curious now what may have caused it. I’ll think on it some more.


From: “Gary M. Berg”

Subject: Pascal on the Mac

You can always pick up Turbo Pascal 5.5 from Borland for free:,1410,20803,00.html


Thanks. For that matter, Borland made older versions of Turbo C and Pascal available for DOS too, which isn’t bad for quick-and-dirty stuff. I found the older versions of Turbo Pascal for DOS produced smaller, tighter executables than the later versions (I mostly used version 7, back in 1992-93). And I believe at least one of their Windows C compilers is available for free now too.

From: “Brent Dickerson”

Subject: voice recognition stuff

In case your interested in reading another’s short eval. The link may not work after today. brentfd


Thanks. That’s the first positive piece I’ve read on VoiceXPress, but their findings on ViaVoice are certainly consistent with my experience and with what I’ve read elsewhere–though ViaVoice improves considerably with a good mic. I still prefer NaturallySpeaking though, and I get better results than he did, but again, with a highly recommended mic and sound card combo.

From: Robert Bruce Thompson

Subject: RE:

Hmm. When I was in high school, the first integrated circuits were still in R&D labs. That was 1971 or thereabouts.

By the time I was in high school (1989-1993), “build your own computer” meant driving up to Gateway Electronics, buying a 386sx motherboard, I/O card and video card, some memory and a case, then assembling it all yourself. This was slightly more exotic than today when you can go down the street to get your parts.

I was an anomaly in that I owned an Amiga, whose system boards didn’t change much and were very well documented, so there were literally dozens of hacks available on BBSs to add features to them–most involved at least a little soldering and some involved discrete components. So that’s where most of my experience with discrete components comes from.

Most twentysomethings like me never had to build our own circuit boards and can’t imagine doing so. I was surprised to see modifications requiring soldering to start popping up on the hardware sites, because I know an awful lot of overclockers are my age and have never soldered delicate electronics before.

I dated a girl a few years ago who vaguely remembered her dad building a computer from a kit in the late 1970s. He’d tell her what component he needed, and she’d find it from the pile and give it to him. With me being a computer professional, she was pretty proud of that. She knew not many people in our generation had even that experience.

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