Ephemerides

A journal of sorts to record Jonathan Sturm's (and others') thoughts and observations on things worth thinking about. Feedback welcome, but be aware that unless you prominently say you want your communication kept private, I may publish it.

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Monday 9 October

Warlock sent me a link to an excellent essay on Globalisation and happiness. And that and several  emails about my last piece led me to share the following:

Back in the 1970s my friends and I mostly had very long hair and often, while doing what people with very long hair did in those days, we talked about moving back to the land as an ideal way of life. I remember that one summer several did. And all returned early in the ensuing winter. Well, almost all.

The end of the decade found me broke and contemplating the good life. I had always more or less carefully tailored my income to maximise my leisure-time. Leisure to me was eating at gourmet restaurants (where my long hair was not always appreciated), buying and reading good books, conversation with people who could think rather than merely air their prejudices and fornication.

My source of income at the time was painting landscape pictures to compete with the sterile prints sold in department stores. My long haired friends went from door-to-door selling the paintings and gaining an occasional commission for a painting from a favourite photograph. They also sold prints of my pen and ink drawings. (You can grab one here, though be warned, it looks much better printed than on-screen.) The sales staff paid me for what they sold, keeping the balance in their pockets. 

The sales staff kept approximately 30-35% of the money taken and each week I paid bonuses to the top salesman or woman. And that person often made more than I did as I had considerable manufacturing costs. That didn't bother me in the least. I was making several times per hour what I had as a clerk and above all, I was happy. We were all working less hours than the ordinary Joes, approximately 20 per week. I was particularly happy with the business model: everyone was in control of their own income.

Occasionally, sales would be beyond my capacity to provide, so I would pay wages to someone to help make the canvases: reject linen table cloths from a laundry glued to plywood and gessoed. The prints were mounted on acid-free mat boards. 

Not everyone was happy, however. Some people were incapable of understanding how to sell the paintings. The sales staff were in essence entertainers competing with television. If the evening's TV shows were popular, like Starsky and Hutch, sales were down. If it was shite on TV, the reverse was true. Invariably, when records were broken, it was a Tuesday night! When given instruction, the people who couldn't sell very many would say, "I couldn't say/do that! I'd feel silly." The instruction, by the way, wasn't in the form of scripts. Just general approaches that one had to weave into a personal approach. The best sales staff were very creative people, often talented artists or musicians. Most went on to much bigger and better things.

Some of the unhappiness was in the "poor starving artist" community. Where they waited forlornly for the world to beat a path to their door, I beat a path to the door of my clients, many of whom became repeat customers. (God I would have given my eye teeth for a computerised system to replace the card file I used to track customers and paper spreadsheet to keep track of my costs!) The poor starving artists and people who couldn't sell, or be bothered selling, became increasingly vocal in their opposition to my business. They declared that I was ripping off the public and the sales staff.

Regarding the former, I introduced a cooling off period before it was made law for door-to-door sales. The advantage to this is well illustrated by the following. I had accepted a commission to paint a picture of the Arthur River from a photograph. A week or so after the sale was consummated, Terry, who was particularly good at procuring commissions, phoned me: "The client's unhappy with the painting, but it's a commission".

"Give him his money back and double the price," I said. The painting had taken twice as long as I anticipated. Such things happen when you're having fun!

Terry was delighted with the result! Fifteen minutes later, he sold the painting to the next door neighbour who was far from annoyed when he discovered what had happened.

I was losing my talented sales people to bigger and better things and finding it hard to recruit replacements. Hobart is a small community of only a couple of hundred thousand. Then disaster struck. My top three sales staff had taken my advice about drink driving and caught a cab after their Friday night celebration. The incompetent taxi driver rolled the cab, killing Kahm, breaking Andreas's femur and Robert went into a 20 year depression as a result of Kahm dying in his arms.

Kahm was the most truly happy person we had ever met. His sister phoned and asked, "Was he laughing when he died?" Indeed he was. Kahm taught me one of the most important lessons of my life: Carpe diem! (seize the day).

Hey, I didn't intend to write all that! It just poured out and has left me with no time to arrive at my conclusion. Ah well! You'll have to wait until tomorrow if you are interested.  What I wanted to write about, I call voluntary poverty and why it's not really poverty. At the rate I'm going, it's going to take until Friday. Work calls: reading a manuscript and advising the writer. Creating a poster for a community organisation.

Thought for the day:

There is a set of religious, or rather moral, writings which teach that virtue is the certain road to happiness, and vice to misery in this world. A very wholesome and comfortable doctrine, and to which we have but one objection, namely, that it is not true. 

Henry Fielding


Tuesday 10 October

Continuing from yesterday, I am going to skip much detail to get to the point I originally intended to make. Suffice it to say that the ensuing two years were a trial by fire, quite literally at times in fact. My office/home/studio was attacked by an arsonist. The end of the decade found me wondering how I'd been suckered into "selling" $A40,000 of paintings to a company that immediately declared bankruptcy. I couldn't pay my bills, so had to declare bankruptcy myself. 

The business that cost me $A300 to start and made $A300 profit in its first 5 days was defunct. My wife had left me having pocketed the last 3 months' rent and I sold my books for less than the four most expensive had cost me. The stamp collection returned rather more and I managed to break even. I contemplated suicide.

One book I hadn't read yet, I kept: Og Mandino's The Greatest Miracle in the World. It saved my life; thanks Og, wherever you are! Ah, the power of the written word!

I still had one asset left and I decided to do something about it before the now ex-wife remembered it. We had a rather nice collection of vintage wine and commenced to drink it. A somewhat blurry few weeks later found me invited to a garden party by a long-time friend, Jane. As we walked along the street, I asked about the $50 bill tucked between her breasts. "Oh, that's for whoever proposes marriage to me," she hinted. As usual, I ignored Jane's hint, preferring her friendship to a life of mutual misunderstanding.

Also, I must have had a premonition. At the party was the most stunning woman I ever met. I don't mean in the Hollywood Movie Star sense; it was something else. Not, I hasten to add that Marguerite is unlovely, just not boringly glamorous. Almost our first words to each other were: "Ain't never getting married again". It was 4 years before we eventually took that step.

Margie and I share an interest in gardening although mine was untested at that time. Curiously, I had picked up two issues of an organic gardening magazine while passing through airports that just happened to be the two missing from Margie's collection. We decided that since I was likely to remain poor for the near future, that we would be better off living in the country. Finding the right place took almost 12 months.

The farmlet we bought was a hovel on 10 acres of good strong land. For two years I fixed the cottage and developed a small market garden completely with hand tools. Only the initial ground-breaking was done with power machinery borrowed from neighbours. When Margie conceived, we decided to plunge fully into "poverty" and she gave up her job in the city. Our frugal life was tough, but we often reflected on how sorry we felt for the poor "rich" people as we toasted each other with home-made wine and ate a meal from food that we had produced. 

When we had guests they would invariably say: "That's the best lamb we ever tasted". It would amuse me to tell them that it wasn't. It was goat!

A friend originally from America took a trip back to the States around this time. He said that Thanksgiving was particularly hard to endure. His sister had proudly prepared the meal "from scratch". This entailed instant mashed potatoes, frozen vegetables and frozen turkey. My friend said all he could think about was helping me slaughter the meat and pick those peas and dig those carrots and it was all real food with real flavour.

I suspect, though this is verging perilously close to New Age BS, that food cooked with a wood fire is qualitatively different from that cooked with electricity. I can readily explain the flavour difference with hard science about organic production, but not the difference that the wood fire has on the available energy from food so cooked. 

When for several years I became a proselyte for the the organic farming movement, I would talk science to the farmers and agricultural scientists. But when I talked to consumers, I talked politics: 

"If you grow your own potatoes, you have done several quite important things. You have removed the necessity to earn the dollars to buy those potatoes and if your income is subject to your control, you can then choose to pay less taxes. If, like me, you grew them organically, you have no need of the agrochemical inputs and so you have reduced the income of the agrochemical companies and in turn their taxes. You have had useful physical exercise that improves your health and so reduces the necessity to visit the doctor. You have saved transporting the potatoes from the farmer's paddock, to the warehouse, to the supermarket and home, reducing the amount of fossil fuel burned. The most profoundly political act you can make is not to vote for Tweedle Dumb or Tweedle Dumber, or protest about what you can never control, but to grow your own food and take control of your own life."

When asked about the certification of organic produce, Vermont's Eliot Coleman said: "Get to know the first name of the person growing your food, then you won't have to worry about how it's grown". A wise man.

###

Well, there hasn't been much geektalk for a couple of days, so let's make up for it.

Today I was officially welcomed into the inner circle of the DayNotes Gang. Gee, thanks fellas. It's certainly increased the hitrate on this page! It's a privilege to be counted among the writers of my all-time favourite alien contact novel, Jerry Pournelle's The Mote in God's Eye, and what I think is far and away the best computer book I ever read, Bo Leuf and Tom Syroid's Outlook in a Nutshell. Bob Thompson et alia will have to await their share of praise as I have yet to read any of their no doubt excellent books.

###

I finally transferred my SETI@home units to the DayNotes Gang to celebrate the event. I had tried, but failed because I couldn't remember my password. I couldn't request the password to be emailed as the address I had when I joined last November as I no longer have access to that server. The invalid password was because SETI@home had generated it. I have a system for generating passwords I use that I will describe below. Stupidly, I had forgotten to save the email from SETI@home  in my "important" folder and so had to restore several Outlook *.pst files before finding it.

The method I use to generate passwords goes something like this:

Most of us have a hobby, or passion of some sort. Let's suppose yours is music of the 1950s. Then we easily remember Elvis Presley and the year he came to prominence, 1956. 

Pre56sleY is most unlikely to be cracked with a dictionary. L0phtCrack failed with my particular version of this method at least.

Thought for the day:

Nothing is so well calculated to produce a death-like torpor in the country as an extended system of taxation and a great national debt.

William Cobbett


Wednesday 11 October

Fellow DayNotes writer Sjon Svenson wrote:

"As far as I can see the only way to curtail Spam is to charge for sending e-mail. Not much so that for normal use the cost remains low. But, lets say at 1 Bef ($c2.5) it would become quite expensive for spam businesses. Of course in this 'everything must be free' era that would be a no-go. Maybe a scheme where every message that gets replied to is free or refunded?
Sorry, I am daydreaming. Again."

This reminded me of a similar concept put forward by the "Evil Emperor" BillG back in January 1997. While BillG was obviously still ignorant of the Internet at the time and was talking about telephone calls, it's a concept that more than a few of us would like to see put in place.

1000 Minds is a project to bring computer/internet access to the severely movement impaired. They need publicity and money and it seems a worthwhile cause.

I noticed a peculiar behaviour in IE 5.0 this morning. When an attempted connect fails, the menus are disabled in that Window. The buttons still work, but not the menus. This is under Win2k.

FileMaker Pro has been my database of choice since I beta tested Samurai, the first Windows version. The upgrade from version 2 to version 3 was well worthwhile as it became relational avoiding the necessity for awkward (and slow) lookups between databases. I only upgraded to version 4 when I was asked to train a user running that version. Now version 5 is out and the feature list adds nothing to what I use this excellent product for. 

Similarly with most of the other products I use. My PageMaker is still at version 6.0. CorelDRAW! 8 (and WordPerfect 8) was given to me at a MS Tech Briefing ages ago and I only recently started using it. Again, there is no increase in functionality that I need. My all-time favourite word processor, MS Word, gained features I didn't want and precious little of what I did after version 7 (95). My OS, Win2k Pro, has behaved almost perfectly since RC1. 

The only software I regularly use and would like improved are OutLook and FrontPage. 

Similarly with my hardware. This 700 MHz Athlon machine I'm sitting at rarely breaks into a sweat. It certainly manages to crunch through plenty of SETI units while I'm working. The only things I do that seem to slow SETI down are the rare times I convert a WAV to MP3 or play Civilisation: Call to Power.

Microsoft's dotty NET strategy may be bad, but I haven't heard much in the way of alternative suggestions for companies habituated to the continual upgrade cycle to maintain their income. 

Cottage Economy

A note for my northern hemisphere readers. The seasons are inverted in the southern hemisphere; thus January is midsummer and north is the direction of the midday sun that addles the brains of expatriate Englishmen such that they write DayNotes at ten past three in the morning.

When we took up our land and cottage in late January 1982 we were left almost penniless. Even though it cost us only $A26,000 Marguerite had to borrow from the bank, remembering that I was still a bankrupt and therefore wasn't able to borrow. Margie also owned a small block of land that she put up for sale, though that took several years to sell. The first priority after helping the neighbours fight bush fires, was to make a garden.

At the top end of the block, over a hundred metres from the cottage, there is a dam and immediately below that is where I made my first garden. The neighbours loaned us a short length of PVC irrigation pipe to siphon water to the parched ground. We had arrived in the middle of a drought. I knew next to nothing about gardening except what I had read in books, but we managed to be moderately successful and I began my writing career at this time. Grass Roots magazine paid me the princely sum of $A5 per full page article and I think I managed to persuade Organic Gardening magazine to pay me occasionally too.

While I learned the gardening business, I discovered an excellent way of reducing demand on our income: brewing my own beer. While making beer from brew-kits was economical and pleasant, I set out to invent a way to extract my own malt from malted barley. The key to doing this is very careful temperature control and the usual way is with accurate thermostatically controlled electric heating and this was beyond our means. We purchased a very large stainless steel saucepan that justified its cost because of the wide variety of uses to which it would be put. At various times it has made stock from soup bones, jam, soup, ham and bacon among other things. Not just beer.

I made a giant "teapot" cosy for the saucepan using an old bedspread and worn out woollen pullovers. By pitching the cracked barley malt into water at the upper temperature range that the enzymes will tolerate and leaving the saucepan snuggled up in the "teapot" cosy, conversion would complete overnight. Incomplete conversion leads to cloudy beer. 

When I did a time and motion study, we were saving more than double the wage paid to labourers when I costed the beer at the same price as local normal beer. In fact, whenever we had a party, we noticed that the revellers invariably drank our beer and left the commercial beer they had brought with them. Boutique beer being double the price of normal means that in reality we were "earning" four times labourers' wages and it was tax free. I was tempted by a wealthy friend to brew for him at normal pub prices, but the illegality prevented me taking him up on his kind offer.

Most of the labour cost of production was in bottle washing. Wine doesn't need the secondary ferment to produce gas and froth that beer does, so these days I make wine. Approximately half the wine in a fermenter gets bottled and the other half we drink from the fermenter. Wine matures more rapidly in bulk, so we usually have plenty of large food-quality plastic buckets with snap-on lids sitting quietly in the laundry. So far these wines have all been "country" wines: blackberry, rhubarb, red currant, black currant and plum. They have the happy characteristic of maturing more quickly than grape wine, but I have planted a small vineyard of chardonnay. This is my favourite wine grape and the increasing popularity of Australian wine, chardonnay in particular, has led to this decision. I'm more than happy to pay the "cost" of bottle washing to allow my home-made chardonnay to mature.

Robert Wright said in the article I linked to on Monday:

"The point where more wealth ceases to imply more happiness is around $10,000 per capita annually—roughly where Greece, Portugal, and South Korea are now. Above that point, additional dollars don't seem to cheer up nations, and national differences in happiness hinge on the intangibles of culture. The Irish are appreciably happier than the Germans, the Japanese, and the British, though less wealthy than all of them."

Over the last two decades, our average annual income has been remarkably close to $US10,000. While the popular image of our "peasant" lifestyle is one of unremitting toil, this is far from the truth. True, we do not drive a recent motor car, but we do have two current generation computers one with a 17" monitor and the other a Sony 19" as well as a K6-2, a 486 and an Acorn. Oh, and a P-75 out on loan. Do we feel deprived? Far from it.

About five years ago, I went back into the conventional workforce for 16 months managing a computer training office and training end users myself. The job kept me from home for 12 hours a day (includes commute time), 5 days a week for $A36,000 a year, a slightly above average income here in Tasmania. Out of the $A36k, I was paying approximately $A12k in taxes leaving $A24K. Commute cost was $A2k using public transport. Despite pressure from the boss, I refused to buy a vehicle that would have cost around 5 times as much. That leaves around $A22k, or approximately $US13,000. I had more than doubled my time away from home for a net increase in income of around $US3,000. The garden was neglected during this period and we had to eat tired old supermarket stuff. While the cost was probably considerably less than $US1,000 pa, the lower quality certainly added to the decrease in happiness and overall feeling of wellbeing of that period.

During that employment, it didn't take me too long to realise that the business was charging my time out at $A80/hr. These days we get to keep all of that less what the taxman steals. Of course, at the moment I am about to embark on building The House of Steel expecting to save around $A150,000 ignoring the tax that would have to be paid on that amount of net earnings.

Thought for the day:

A couple of flitches of bacon are worth fifty thousand Methodist sermons and religious tracts. They are great softeners of temper and promoters of domestic harmony.

William Cobbett


Thursday 12 October

SMART Failure Predicted on Primary Master: ST317221A
WARNING: Immediately back-up your data and replace your hard disk drive. A failure may be imminent.

That message occurred following my first ever Win2k crash other than those caused by a faulty video card. Again it's a hardware issue. Nice of the hdd to warn me :-) First faulty hard disk for ten years, but then I make sure my hard disks are sold just as they go out of warranty or shortly before. 

This workstation has only the one hard disk, so if it dies before the new drive I ordered arrives this afternoon, I will have to work using my server, a slower, older machine. When the new drive arrives, I will use Partition magic to copy the partitions over and send the dying drive to the supplier for replacement. 

I foolishly thought I had more time before I bought a second drive to create a full backup with Partition Magic. Waiting a while for the newer drive to be faster and bigger for the same price was my thought. And indeed this is the case. The new drive is 3 GB bigger and has a platter speed of 7,200 rpm. 

All my data resides on a drive on the server with a copy of all except my OutLook *.pst mirrored onto the local hard disk using OffLine Folders. Periodically, all data is copied to CD-ROM and most of those are scattered hither and yon to various locations other than my office. I had a colleague who kept his backup tapes in the draw of his desk. Shortly after he lost the computer and all the furniture, he committed suicide. I'm not quite that attached to my data, but 12 years' work would be a lot to replace!

The worst that can happen to me at the moment is that I will need to reinstall Win2k and all my apps followed by several test OSs under VMWare. Not a pleasant thought, but I can always read while most of it trundles along. Currently I am trying to get my head around The End of Time by Julian Barbour and it's heavy going. John Gribbin gave it a big plus and I have been thoroughly enriched by his work over the last few years, so I will perservere.

My previous great read was John and Mary Gribbin's Being Human. John and Mary try to answer that most difficult of all questions: what is it that makes people human beings? What forms our emotions, our intellect and our relationships with other people? The answers they came up with are unpalatable to many, but certainly added to my own understanding of such issues. Highly recommended.

Awaiting my attention are Margaret Wertheim's The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace, The Works of Josephus (4 volumes), Eric Rolls Sojourners, Funk and Hoover's The Five Gospels, Tobias Churton's The Gnostics and James M Robinson's The Nag Hammadi Library. Who needs TV when there's a library to hand and Penguin Cafe Orchestra, or Jessye Norman's Liebestod from Tristan and Isold to listen to?

Developing one's own world view is a difficult process. There's a lot of coercion to obey the rules; why don't you just accept this consensus? Choose your consensus: Methodism, Islam, Big Bang Theory, Anthroposophy, Global Warming... Occasionally the pressure to conform becomes a bit too much and I become depressed. That's when I play the Liebestod from Tristan and Isold. It sure beats getting drunk!

Thought for the day:

This is my depressed stance. When you're depressed, it makes a lot of difference how you stand. The worst thing you can do is straighten up and hold your head high because then you'll start to feel better. If you're going to get any joy out of being depressed, you've got to stand like this.

Charlie Brown


Friday 13 October

Every time something computerish happens entirely as it's supposed to I am surprised. Partition Magic did its thing and transferred my Win2k and Win98 partitions without drama from the dying disk to the new. Actually, I was more surprised by the fact that the courier now comes to my cottage. Not so long ago, I used to get a phone call to come and collect whatever it was from the Post Office 3 miles away. While the courier used to refuse to deliver anywhere except the Post Office, most suppliers refuse to ship by Australia Post! 

The new hard drive is much faster than the old one and this has made a surprising (to me) difference in responsiveness to the system. 

When my son was three, we started using the computer together. He would manipulate the movements of the character Captain Comic and I would hit the "fire" key. The next level up were Sierra's adventure games and he had to learn to read and write. By the time he was eight, he had taken the little QBasic I had taught him and taught himself Visual Basic. The app was a gift from one of my computer industry colleagues. I bought Thomas The Visual Basic Bible for his eighth birthday. His face fell when he saw it as he doesn't share his parents fondness for reading. Within two weeks the book went with him everywhere.

These days he's more interested in QuakeC and PHP than VB. He's slowly learning ANSI C rather than C++ because he thinks a good grounding in the original will enable him to learn more. My programming never got beyond Word macros. Nevertheless, we have plenty to talk about and that makes me happy. I never had conversations with my father.

Yesterday Thomas left for several days of crawling around in caves and kayaking and won't be back until Sunday. In some ways it's a relief. He finds it increasingly hard to handle the stupidity of his teachers. "Do this because I say so," with no rationale. Thomas was relatively spoilt in primary school by the best teacher I ever met. It's amazing how well-behaved kids are when they are not talked down to or threatened with violence! 

Peter (the principal) once showed me a letter from the travel company that took the sixth grade on a week-long trip to Canberra. In essence the letter said that in ten years of school trips that Franklin Primary School was far and away the best. I praised Peter for this and he just said: "Oh, there's nothing to it when you have such great kids and great staff".

Thought for the day:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main...

John Donne


Saturday 14 October

Yesterday I went to the city. I usually go there once every week or so. It's an opportunity to meet with friends and shop for items not available locally. Yesterday's main purchase was a very large stainless steel baking pan that was on a sale. I purchased the last one. While it was "expensive" compared to enamelled steel, I know that it will outlast my lifetime. Apart from things computer, I am keenly aware that many of my purchases will remain useful beyond my lifetime.

There was a moment of panic when Margie asked whether the oven in the new stove would be big enough to use the new baking pan. It barely fits the oven in the current stove and that has a slightly larger oven than the new one. We found the specification and while the new oven is narrower, it is also deeper and the pan will fit with 15 mm to spare. 

One of the joys of a wood-fired stove is that baking in the oven costs no more nor less than stovetop cooking. We like roasting mutton in preference to lamb as it is cheaper and tastier. It can also be huge. Slowly roasted, it is just as tender.  And being huge it provides several follow-on meals: sliced cold for sandwiches, shepherds' pie etc.

The Victoria Tavern is my favourite watering hole. It is where the petition to release the Irish Rebel, Smith O'Brien, from the Port Arthur Prison was got up. Despite being an incompetent, as well as reluctant, rebel he was transported to Van Diemen's Land and lived a bookish life in a small cottage at Port Arthur, a place where usually only recidivist convicts were sent. No doubt Queen Victoria felt safer in her bed at night knowing that this man was safely incarcerated at the Antipodes. I have read a book about the five Irish Rebels and can find no reference to it with an Internet search, so I suspect it was only published locally.

Smith O'Brien's four companions had an easier time of it and were allowed to farm, though forbidden to meet each other. Naturally, they disobeyed this dictum and no obvious harm came to the Monarch as a result of their socialising at the opposite end of the world. 

I was thinking of Smith O'Brien while sipping my chardonnay and soda, not just because of the petition, but because he believed most strongly in the power of words and democracy. Although he was a member of the privileged ruling class, he was greatly distressed by the poverty and consequent death of large numbers of his countrymen and women and tried to do something about it. And thinking on what I know of his life, I thought: "What a cracking DayNotes writer he would have been were he alive today!"

Phil Colledge whose brother runs the Tavern regaled us with a modern tale of a recent visit to Japan. He and his companions phoned for room service at their hotel and ordered a toasted sandwich each, three ham and cheese, one plain cheese. They duly arrived and the bill was $A400 (approx $US250). Each sandwich came with a "free" beer, but only the ham and cheese came with "free" fries. Phil said he took pity on the guy who ordered the plain cheese sandwich and gave him "eighty dollars worth" of fries.

Phil is involved in marketing computer software (among other things) and the development of unusual uses thereof. He showed us his new Nokia phone: one of those neat fold out ones with a keyboard and screen that used to cost $A3,000 not so long ago and now cost $A150. On the screen was an image from a camera at his business premises showing people walking about. Their faces were clearly recognisable; even though the screen is small, the resolution is magnificent. 

The burglar alarm at his business dials the phone and sets up a VPN via the Internet to show who or what has triggered it. Should the phone be off it can be set to call the Police or other security organisation. I'll post more on this when Phil sends me the details. 

I was going to discuss with Phil the funding of a worthwhile computer project in the UK. Sandwiches are considerably cheaper there! Alas, the people behind the project are far too prickly for comfort and I held my tongue.

I visited my friend Niels who is having problems with a new computer virus. It appears to reside in the BIOS and is not detected by any of the AV software we have. A clean install of Win98 boots fine on first boot, but thereafter the machine will not boot from either the floppy drive or hard disk. Putting the hard drive into another machine produces the same symptoms on that machine. He suspects that the antiCMOS virus that was so badly written as to not deliver its payload may have been rewritten to work "properly".

Niels gave me a couple of 72 pin SIMMS to try out in the printer following the directions at HP Printer Memory Explained. I will report on this later. 

Today Margie is attending a free performance by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra at our newly renovated Palais Theatre, while I fix a friend's computer in return for dinner tonight. If Thomas were not away, I would have paid him to do the computer fix and accompanied Margie to the concert.

Thought for the day:

You have it easily in your power to increase the sum total of this world's happiness now. How? By giving a few words of sincere appreciation to someone who is lonely or discouraged. Perhaps you will forget tomorrow the kind words you say today, but the recipient may cherish them over a lifetime.

Dale Carnegie


Sunday 15 October

My friends' computer is now used only for email and word processing, since Michael's son has departed. So, I decided to install NT4 workstation instead of Win98-SE. It's must be a year since I installed NT4 WS and I had forgotten about all those tedious reboots. The machine now has two user accounts, one each for Michael and Gail both set with a blank password. The Administrator account has an impossible to guess password, so the well-meaning folks who create the problems I have to go and fix won't be able to "improve" things any more.

I made one mistake. Following the install of Service Pack 4 (the latest I had with me), I loaded the Hercules Stingray Pro video driver when pnpisa.inf told me it had found new hardware. I should have chosen the PnP SoundBlaster as several attempts at loading that later failed. I could have done both the video driver and soundcard driver in the same session, but two of my three NT4 Blue Screens of Death occurred when I tried to load several drivers without a reboot between each. Fortunately, they rarely need sound, so I will return and fix that later.

Looking out the window, I see it is snowing! Our climate is similar to Bordeaux in France and we rarely see snow at our elevation even in the depths of winter, never mind mid-spring. The snow is settling on the hills around us. So much for global warming! In the city, snow is rarer still. Several years ago, during a particularly interesting time in state politics, the leader of the conservative party said he would only reach agreement with the Greens when it snowed on the steps of the General Post Office. Two weeks later, for the first time since white settlement, snow settled briefly on those steps. Needless to say, this occasioned considerable mirth.

Last night's conversation over dinner centred on local politics. We all agreed that we had lost patience with the Greens. When the Greens protested to save our remnant wild forest, saying that we should be planting trees instead, we agreed. Now, the Greens are protesting the planting of trees! 

It is increasingly difficult for our farmers to make a living from farming, so many are selling their land and the purchasers are planting trees. There is of course nothing except the lack of will or money preventing the protesters from purchasing that land and farming it themselves. Naturally they would find that it is extremely difficult to remain economically viable and that farming entails copious quantities of very hard work.

The Greens also appear to be claiming that once under trees, the land can never be used for farming again. Apparently they have failed to notice that the original settlers had to remove the trees they found to make their farms in the bush.

The incumbents in council have expressed considerable hostility towards the renovation of our Palais Theatre. Their current goal is to turn it into a Business Enterprise Centre now that the local community has renovated it. They were previously talking about demolishing it! 

The trick of converting ordinary 72 pin SIMMs into HP printer memory SIMMS described at HP Printer Memory Explained worked!  The first of the two 8 MB SIMMs I looked at already had pad 69 connected to ground through a zero ohm SMD resistor, so I installed it into my LaserJet 5P alongside the second-hand PS SIMM I installed the other day. The self-test worked, so it was on to the second SIMM that needed to be soldered in order to be recognised by the printer.

The two pads to be connected were just far enough apart that a solder blob alone wouldn't work, so I cut a length of fine tinned copper wire and bent the end to a right angle. The length of the bridging portion was about 3 mm. After grounding myself and the soldering iron, I held that short portion of the wire against the two pads and briefly applied the tip of the soldering iron. I had to remove my reading glasses to see clearly at such a close distance. Then I snipped the excess wire and proceeded to install the SIMM in the last free slot in the printer. 

The printer self-test now tells me I have 19 MB of memory and I have saved over a thousand dollars compared to what HP wanted to charge me for new parts ($A1195 for a PS SIMM). Should you decide to follow my footsteps, it's worth following the instructions rigorously. If your soldering skills are not up to scratch the exercise could end up costing money rather than saving it. Given that one of the SIMMs was already wired to tell the printer what it was and that it didn't come from a printer, it might be worth checking through 2nd hand SIMMs for ones already preconfigured.

It's worth bearing in mind that if you only print ordinary non-graphics intensive documents then this exercise will avail you nothing. Postscript documents tend to need the extra memory as does downloading Postscript fonts to the printer in order to speed up printing. Fingers crossed that it's goodbye Mr LimitCheck Error for me!

Thought for the day:

My mother used to say that there are no strangers, only friends you haven't met yet. She's now in a maximum security twilight home in Australia.

Dame Edna Everage


 

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© Jonathan Sturm 2000

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© Jonathan Sturm 2000