Older blog entries for nutella (starting at number 206)

Advogato glitch
I see lkcl's entry on the "Recent blog entries list". But when I follow the Recent entries list it is not one of those displayed. Luke is rated as Master so his entry shouldn't fall below the threshold.

The local library is cool. They have a copy of Revolution OS in the DVD collection. This is either apt or ironic as one of the major events for Windows Refund Day took place only a few hundred yards away.

Don Marti DOES Get It (duh!)
I agree that this is very excellent. More so as it includes a definite QOTD:
This will keep less from clearing the screen after you look at the man page, and spoil the mental workout that you normally get by playing "Remember the Man Page And Then Try To Type The Command."
Paul E. Ceruzzi Does Not Get It
I've been reading his 1999 book A History of Modern Computing, grabbed from the library pretty much at random, which has a very nice overview of the U.S. side of computer development from UNIVAC onwards. The surprise was his apparent anti-UNIX bias. One of the apparent faults of early UNIX is that it was closely associated with networking so "it made it easy to write programs that acted like a 'virus'". Another apparent fault was that circulating the source allowed people to create other, potentially incompatible, versions. Instead the author hails MS-DOS as a real (author's emphasis) desktop standard. This is a bizarre choice as he also complains about UNIX's difficult command line interface. The complaint against openness also destroys one of his earlier points where he points out that Rockford Research Institute's tight legal control of its TRAC language likely led to its downfall, in comparison to the then contemporary and more open SHARE (collaboratively developed) and MAD (University of Michigan) languages. I am assuming that there was a long delay in submission and publishing as there's no mention of Linux (actually the book coverage seems to stop at about 1995 with the formation of Netscape).

Having said that, if you want an overview of 1950's - 1980's hardware, computer languages and system software it is a nice book.

Jumpering the shark
I recently had a problem with a rebooted PC throwing SCSI errors and the two attached hard drives resetting frequently until the thing just hung. I've used SCSI for a while and so my historically biased approach to diagnosing problems is "It's either cabling or termination". These days of idiot-proof automatic termination and blocks hard-wired to the cables reduces the chances of these kinds of events happening. The bottom line is, that after a great deal of jiggling and reseating, I found that the actual cause was that the SCSI ID jumper of one of the drives had worked loose and thus rendered it SCSI ID 0. Naturally the other drive already had that ID so the two of them were fighting. Maybe the smart move is to number them 1 and 2 so that unless they both shed their jumpers they'll remain unique. Anyway, I should have more quickly remembered the third historically biased diagnosis "...or bad SCSI IDs".

(Where will I be able to post my "I was an idiot" confessions if Advogato goes away?)

More horror stories from proprietary software land
So, the friend mentioned in the last post wanted to play movies from their shiny new DVD drive. Everything worked just fine up to the point when they wanted to watch something that had been encoded in DivX format. I don't know where they downloaded the codec pack but installing it destroyed the ability to watch AVI and MPEG format files. DivX used to fund their development through Gain/Gator bundling but I would be very surprised if they had switched to something worse. I tried uninstalling the codec and it appeared to disappear completely but the ability to play other formats appears to have gone permanently. Tough luck, user.

I had the chance to play with Visual Basic 2005 Express (VB .NET 2.0) and was aghast at the tortuous development environment and at the COMPLETE and TOTAL LACK of ANY resemblance to BASIC. An accompanying text indicated that Bill Gates had written and popularised BASIC many moons ago which legitimises Steve Ballmer's vision of allowing them to rewrite BASIC to allow it to be more modern. The mantra is "to allow refactoring" and this is intoned at regular intervals. I don't particularly care about any of this, apart from the bastardisation implicit in calling the resulting language "BASIC". The book insists that VB6 people are behind the times and everyone needs to switch to this Java- and C++ -like language. Just to show that they can be humorous as well they noted that 64-bit integers were supported "so that Bill Gates can properly record his net worth". Hints of how that net worth came about are probably given in the amount of text devoted to Source Safe, which should apparently be used to store all of your intellectual property to keep it safe from prying eyes (and presumably to stop you wasting it by sharing it with others). VB must be really on the way out if they are working so hard to alienate the original users. I haven't written any kind of BASIC code in 10 years but I liked the PowerBASIC dialect, and the creators of True BASIC are the ones who should be deciding the direction the language should take.

I was helping a friend install a new DVD drive recently (along with the associated software). I also tidied up some of the configuration on their WinXP box (some of which required reinstallation). I find it especially depressing about the general trend towards compulsory installation of extra software on top of even the most basic drivers. Most of the software is intended to take control over the media files and the users' browsing habits. Software writers have moved their junk from dialogue boxes to Windows services to the registry to make it increasingly more difficult to control, let alone remove. There's also a tendency to ride roughshod over existing configuration, even when this makes the setup less secure (for example many programs will switch Autoplay on for all media, even if it was previously disabled). The Roxio DVD software installation was mockingly nasty as the install shield screen had entries for a number of useless "accessories" but there was no way to disable their installation (I have heard that Nero is much better behaved). Other offenders were Acrobat (installs a toolbar in Office that reactivates itself every time you disable it within Office), QuickTime/iTunes (wants total media control), RealPlayer (ibid), ShockWave (ibid) and of course Windows itself. Mercifully they had an old copy of Win2k so I was able to take the CD Player from that so the user didn't have to be submitted to Windows Media Players compulsory "visualisations".

As these annoyances become more and more intrusive it is increasingly easy to bring up the subject of an alternative operating system. One where the configuration is generally through files you can read in a text editor. One where you can actually look at the code to make sure it will not ransack your computer and send the data back to the mothership ("you explicitly allowed this in the section of the EULA that had scrolled off the screen"). One where you can see and control and kill running processes.

Another mistake my friend had made was to order a PC from Alienware. The specifications were actually very good for the money (especially the CPU, motherboard, video card and a full copy of WinXP with latest security patches) but the system arrived in an unbootable state and with missing parts. While Alienware's phone support staff sounded very polite and knowledgable they are apparently controlled by insane people who will do anything rather than refund money (or talk directly to the customer). The telephone support people did arrange to send the missing parts and talked my friend through a reinstallation but the Alienware backup disk image (Norton Ghost) for the system was the same unbootable one on the machine as it arrived and Alienware refused to refund the money for this even though the lower level phone people were sure that this was possible. Telephoning and emailing resulted in nothing. My friend is warning everyone against buying Alienware and suggesting Falcon Northwest instead (althought they sound overpriced - I can't get through the flash animation on their website to actually check the prices). Ah, I forgot Dell bought Alienware so the quality control and customer support can only get worse... Thankfully my own homebrew box is running nicely.

Hurray for Bart!
(No, not that BART, or that Bart. I mean this Bart)
The option for installation of mass storage drivers in WinXP seems to be completely borken. I had to install it on a box with a SCSI controller that is not recognised by the installation CD. I created a driver diskette, dutifully hit F6 and was glad to see that installer could see the SCSI drive and create and format a partition. It installed the base OS and then refused to copy the driver from the floppy. I tried umpteen variations of the driver in multiple directories in plain and CABified form and it would have none of it. I also tried the F8 options. Nada. Out of curiousity I borrowed an IDE drive, installed WinXP to it and then added the driver from the floppy without a hitch (not a viable option as the box has to boot from a SCSI disk). The Knuisance Base acknowledges that the F6 option is frowned upon and basically tells you to go away and stop being a freedom-loving wussy.

Anyway, I copied the installation CD tree and added the driver much as described here (there are similar descriptions elsewhere) and then burnt the CD with Bart's bcd. Now the installation could proceed without the F6 and diskette silliness. Or so I thought. Although it could see and format the SCSI drive it couldn't copy the driver it had used from the CD. Mercifully this time it accepted the one on the diskette. No, I had no access to a Linux box at this time or cdrtools etc. would have sufficed just nicely. GAR!

Hardware lock-in? Of course not.

Death to all floppy drives!
I know that non-USB diskette drives are so last century but once in a while I need them for patches or drivers or bootdisks or whatever. One good thing is that they are now insanely cheap, but the bad thing is that they are now considerably more flimsy. When building the new box I made the mistake of grabbing a Mitsumi drive for <$10. It worked fine until I decided to move things around a little and I tried to slip off the ribbon cable and found that it had detached along with three or four of the pins (and I was trying to be gentle). The replacement is a Teac and is over 50% more expensive but is much more solidly built. While I was waiting to purchase the replacement I tried to make do with another drive cannibalised from another box but when I fired it up I found that it was dead. I realised I hadn't put a disk in it in over five years and I had switched off the boot seek option in the BIOS so on the rare occasions I rebooted I didn't realise it had died. Maybe the occasional test would have been good for it. Another Teac of similar age works fine and the Epson in my ~14 year old 486 seems to be okay as well. I actually have a 5.25" 1.2 MB drive in that 486 box as well and it appears to be okay. I still have a stack of 360 k floppies from my postgraduate study days but also transferred them to CDROM some time ago. It was depressing to find that the entire text of my doctoral thesis (WordPerfect 5) fit on a lonely 1.2 MB diskette.
Asus and Antec and AMD, oh my!
As I mentioned elsewhere I am creating a new box to replace my aging homebrew PIII/600. I can scavenge most of the current one (SCSI card, drives and optical drives etc.) leaving the need for a new CPU, motherboard and memory (I can make do with an old Matrox PCI card for now). I thus acquired an Asus socket 939 motherboard, an AMD 64 x2 CPU and 2 x 1 GB ECC memory. I also realised I'd need a new power supply and decided to pick one that was supposedly "quiet" (if not silent). I thus have an Antec SmartCool. The assembly did not proceed smoothly. I hooked everything up and pressed the big red button. There was a "pfft" from the PSU, the LEDs flickered and then nothing, except the motherboard LED was still illuminated so I new I hadn't blown things completely. If I cycled power I could repeat the show. I stripped it down to PSU, motherboard and CPU and the same game happened. I pulled the battery and cleared the RAM and the same thing happened. I checked the web and found some folk had run into similar problems with the same kind of setup. There was no obvious solution and some folk blamed the smart cooling function. Out of curiousity I pulled the square four pin power plug from the board and tried again with only the 24 pin connector in place. Woohoo! CPU and chipset fans spun up and the case LEDs stayed on, but I didn't hear a POST beep. I shoved in the video card, powered up and saw only a blank screen. Determined to beat the problem I plugged in the 4 pin connector again. Genuine Woohoo! It's alive! I still don't know the cause but I am glad it is working now. I had to set the fan warnings to the lowest speed (800 rpm) to stop boot errors but otherwise the remainder of the assembly is proceeding apace.
9 Dec 2005 (updated 9 Dec 2005 at 01:19 UTC) »
dcoombs sorry to hear about the mishap. At least, written the way you have it, it looks like a happy ending.

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