Ephemerides

A Daily Diatribe by a Pompous Git

A Sturm's Eye View

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 6 November 2000

This morning dawns cool and wet. Again! Usually I'd be thinking of sowing French beans, pumpkins, zucchini and the last of the sweet corn. All I've managed so far is a few lettuce! The onions and garlic are looking very sick! All but one of the young grape vines appear to have survived the killing frost last month. Something to be grateful for.

The prolonged wet spell has delayed the arrival of the handyman that cuts our grass. For the last few years it has been cheaper to pay Tony to bring his lawnmower and brush-cutter than to own our own and do it ourselves. The grass was becoming unmanageable so in the afternoon I got out my trusty scythe. I spent some time filing the edge razor sharp finishing off with a butcher's steel. A century or so ago, the edge was beaten out with a small hammer and anvil to save the precious metal. 

I am a little out of practise, but soon have the rhythmic swing and slice through several hundred square metres of the worst of it. Most people who have never scythed try to chop with it and soon tire. The scythe was designed to slice through the grass stalks just one long thin bite at a time. The grass is wet, so there is a lot more friction than if it were dry. There is a limit to how many months I am prepared to wait for the grass to dry, however.

My reward is a long, hot soaking bath followed by dinner. Today I casseroled lamb's necks with onions until they were almost falling apart. The accompaniment was potatoes mashed with butter, raw minced onion and garlic, steamed peas, carrots and asparagus. Alas only the latter vegetable from our own garden.

The Mandrake download is burning along at 7-8 kB/sec. Usually all I manage is around 3.8 kB/sec max. I notice that GoldWave has been updated so I download that and install it. The transcription of my music collection to CD has a rhythm now and I am enjoying listening to music that I rarely play. I am managing around 10 albums a day, so it's going to take at least three months. 

During the office cleanup I discover a forgotten and easily overlooked computer: an Olivetti Quaderno. The Quaderno is about half the size and weight of an ordinary notebook computer and is an "XT" with 20 MB hard disk. It boots from DOS 5 in ROM. I got it very cheap as it has a broken screen hinge and it is from Germany, so having a German keyboard. I repaired the hinge after a fashion and use a DOS keyboard remap. You can't touch-type on a keyboard this tiny, so I put sticky labels on the appropriate keys.

Despite my German name, I speak no Deutsche. When I first acquired the machine in part payment for my old 66 MHz 486, I contacted Olivetti for a manual. They sent a photocopy of the manual for a totally different Quaderno so I am still bewildered by some of its eccentricities. If I can get it on the network, I could find a use for it again.

Thought for the day:

Is it not strange that sheep's guts should hale souls out of men's bodies?

William Shakespeare


Tuesday 7 November 2000

Byte has an interesting story about Epson colour inkjet printers. 

Paul Thurrot's newsletter details Microsoft's acquiescence to Germany's insistence that Germans be able to disable the disk defragmenter in Win2k on religious grounds. Lance Jensen, CEO of Executive Software, the creator of the Diskeeper defragger is... shock, gasp, horror... a Scientologist and that's an illegal religion in Germany. That's rich coming from the country that murdered six million Jews to render their bodies for fat and tooth fillings! And here's a piece on the Bush family involvement in financing it.

And while we are on the issue of government shenanigans. 

"This brings me to the whole point of this: you are not being paranoid enough.  The FBI managed to get a search warrant based on logs from a firewall, that showed my IP only connecting, not even logging in, hours after news of the cracking had appeared on news sites.  If they can get a search warrant this easily, your data is not safe, sitting on your hard drive.  For the past two months I've been living in this dorm, I locked my doors, securified my boxes, and backed up my essential things.  I never even imagined the federal government would just let themselves in and take it." 

Story here

It seems to me that computing and gardening have much in common. Both require much initial effort before the rewards start to flow. Both require considerable maintenance, one weeding the other defragmentation and backups. Both the garden and computer are susceptible to pestilence and disease. Both are capable of surprising me with unanticipated outcomes. My garden will be a sorry thing this summer, though it will be an opportunity to gain control over some perennial weeds. My computer has started giving me a stop error on shutdown. Do I attempt to find the weed, or plough it all in and start from scratch?

Thought for the day:

In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.

Martin Niemoeller


Wednesday 8 November 2000

I started this morning off by testing the 17 GB Seagate hard disk when set as slave. This was on the off chance that it would do what happened to Garry Dupree earlier in the week when a drive tested fine as master, but failed dismally when set to slave. No dice. The drive tested fine. However, it is marked for replacement well before its warranty expires. 

In the meantime, it brought backing up to the forefront of my mind. It's something rarely far away from my thoughts. I once met a writer who spent two years writing a book without backing up because floppy disks were "too expensive". They did cost $A10 each back then, but when he lost two years work, they suddenly seemed much cheaper.

I have used a variety of backup media over the years. Floppies, Flopticals, Zip disks, hard disk cartridges and lately CD-R. My backups have grown sufficiently large that backing up to CD-R is becoming tedious. The main problem is finding the relevant CD when a restore is called for! Today I ordered my first tape drive and I expect it to arrive tomorrow. It's a QIC 3095 drive that stores up to 8 GB of compressed data. The drive I chose was an Aiwa TD-A8000 and I ordered 4 tapes. 

One tape will hold a full backup and will be stored off-site. Two copies of that full backup will also be stored on CD-R, one of which will be off-site. The other three tapes will be used in rotation to make a nightly differential backup and will travel with me wherever I go. I will still use CD-R periodically as well, just less frequently. The tape backup can be scheduled to occur while I sleep, unlike a full CD-R backup that takes 2 CDs. Sleep comes easier when I know that my more than ten years of writing is safe.

Unlike some, I have never anthropomorphised my computers. However, to make reading more interesting than "my workstation", "the server" etc, I have decided to name them. Henceforth, my workstation is Tarquin, the server is Tullius, Thomas's workstation Sixtus and the currently off-line spare workstation is Tanaquil.

Tarquin is a 700 MHz AMD K7 with an ASUS K7V MoBo, 256 MB of PC133 SDRAM, Matrox G400, 17 GB and 20 GB Seagate hdds, 100 MB IDE Zip drive, Afreey 10x DVD ROM drive, RealMagic Hollywood Plus DVD card, Ensoniq PCI sound, Cambridge Soundworks speakers, Sony G400 19" monitor. The case is an A-Open HQ 45 with 300W power supply. Runs Win2k, Win98-SE and Caldera Open Linux 2.4.

Sixtus is a 700 MHz AMD K7 with an A-Open AK72 MoBo, 128 MB of PC133 SDRAM, Asus AGP-V3800TNT2 ultra Deluxe, two 17 GB Seagate hdds, Afreey 10x DVD ROM drive, RealMagic Hollywood Plus DVD card, Sound Blaster Live, Playmaster 50W/channel amp driving SEAS 60 loudspeakers, Philips 17b monitor. The case is an A-Open HQ 45 with 300W power supply. Runs Win2k, Win98-SE and Mandrake 7.1.

Tullius is a 400 MHz AMD K6 II, DFI MoBo, 128 MB SDRAM, Matrox Millenium II, 4 GB and 13 GB Quantum hdds, Panasonic 40x IDE CD reader, Panasonic 4x SCSI CD writer, Adaptec 1505 SCSI adapter. Video feeds to second input on the Sony G400 monitor.

Tanaquil is a 100 MHz 486, 32 MB RAM, 1.6 GB Maxtor and 90 MB Conner hdds, ATI Graphics Ultra Pro, 24x Panasonic CD, Sound Blaster 32, 15" Samsung monitor. Runs NT4 WS and Win95 OSR2.

The 10Base-T hub is a 16 port Alloy, NICs are various NE2000 clones, mainly Alloy, printer is an HP 5MP with 19 MB RAM, flatbed scanner is HP 4300C USB and the slide scanner is a Canoscan FS 2710. The main modem is a 3Com/US Robotics 56k. We also have a Banksia Wave SP 56 and an Intel iStation 56k.

The Best Blonde Joke of the Year -- so far 

A man was in his front yard mowing grass when his attractive blonde female neighbour came out of the house and went straight to the mailbox. She opened it then slammed it shut and stormed back in the house. A little later she came out of her house again, went to the mail box and again opened it, slammed it shut again. Angrily, back into the house she went. As the man was getting ready to edge the lawn, here she came out again, marched to the mail box, opened it and then slammed it closed harder than ever. Puzzled by her actions, the man asked her, "Is something wrong?" To which she replied, "There certainly is! My stupid computer keeps saying, 'YOU'VE GOT MAIL'."

Thought for the day:

Early and provident fear is the mother of safety.

Edmund Burke


Thursday 9 November 2000

The Mandrake 7.2 download finished last night. Installed it, but didn't have time to play very much. It seems much faster. Having the Window close button on the top left was a little distracting. I just did a full novice install accepting defaults wherever appropriate. Netscape told me the server was not accepting requests, but Konqueror took me straight to my website. Unlike Netscape, it understood my redirector and also everything seems very responsive.

The window close button is now on the top left corner by default, but a quick right-click context menu soon fixes this little inanity. Yes, it was an inanity when MS put the close button where everyone was used to finding the maximise button. My Windows drive was automatically mounted and a TTF tool allowed the grabbing of TrueType fonts from there or anywhere else I choose. I'm more likely to go PostScript if that's an option. We will see later.

Had to lay out a program for the Equal Music event on Saturday. I was provided with three Word documents where the creator had attempted to do the layout as facing A5 pages on A4 landscape. Spliced the documents together and imported them into PageMaker. Redefined the paragraph styles and discovered that whoever created the documents had overridden styles to create the appearance of other styles in the document. Yeuch! What a mess! Got there in the end. Then PageMaker produced an undefined PostScript error printing to my new PS enabled printer. Offending command: VM? Went back to PCL and printed everything fine. 

The PS error set me to thinking. The usual way of creating Adobe PDF files is to generate a PS file and then feed that into Distiller. When I tried this some time ago, Distiller spit the dummy, complaining that the PS file I had made with PageMaker was not an Adobe PS file. Could it be that my PageMaker CD is corrupt? Maybe it's time to upgrade to version 6.5.

On the off chance that it was some quirky interaction between PageMaker 6.0 and Win2k, I rebooted into Win98 SE. Installed PageMaker, but it refused to run. Just a brief showing of the hourglass and then... nothing! Thinks! I installed extra memory in the printer. Updating the PostScript Printer Description file might be called for. PageMaker online help says to run the PPD Update plug-in. Not there in the Plug-in menu! Aha! There's an Update PPD applet in the Adobe folder. Run that and update VM to appropriate number from querying printer. No dice!

I create a test page:

"Test
icle"

This too generates the undefined error! Online searches on PostScript, error and VM get me nowhere. Adobe doesn't want me to upgrade (or even register my software) on line).  The local Adobe outlet is 250 km away and a Mac shop. My usual software supplier on the mainland is out of stock of all but Educational Licenses of Adobe software. I give up for the day.

I am reluctant to spend money on a PageMaker upgrade if FrameMaker pans out. Mandrake looks very inviting on the surface. I'll likely need to go to a higher screen resolution to make up for the lack of anti-aliasing of fonts, but the Matrox G400/Sony G400 combination should be up to that. The prospect of leaving PageMaker behind saddens me. It and Excel were the first apps that said to me, "Computing is not just for rocket scientists!" I recall telephoning Aldus Australia with a problem and receiving a phone call from the US an hour later with a workaround.

A thunderstorm led to a prolonged shutdown of our electronic goodies. It was quite eerie walking into the office several hours later without all those fans whirring away.

Thought for the day:

There are two ways of constructing a software design. One way is to make it so simple that there are obviously no deficiencies. And the other way is to make it so complicated that there are no obvious deficiencies.

C. A. R. Hoare


Friday 10 November 2000

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I hate computer file systems! Even though we now have long filenames to make life easier, it's still a royal pain to find a document. Some documents I create belong in several places, and while I can create aliases... er, sorry, shortcuts, that's a pain too. Why isn't there an "include in these places" command in the save dialog? Why do computers insist on imitating paper filing systems? Could it be because computer programmers find it easier to write their operating systems that way? Perhaps it's an admission that computer programmers have the imagination of penguins file clerks.

I was thinking about this when I was hunting for an email in Outlook. To all intents and purposes emails are the same as files, except you don't need to bother naming them! I know that emails and files are treated the same way because years ago, when Outlook was "merely" the Exchange Client, I decided to try dragging and dropping a word document into a mail folder so it would be accessible alongside the clients' emails. 

Compare the Find Files or Folders dialog in Windows whatever.x with the Outlook Find. Despite the restriction of the Outlook search to the current folder, it's a much richer set of find options than Find Files or Folders. I have decided to hone my VBA skills since I assume I will be able to improve the Find operation in Outlook to be able to include folders of my choosing.

The File, New dialog allows me to create Office documents directly in any Outlook folder. I just created a Word document that way, minus its Status Bar. Turning the Status Bar back on under Tools, Options, View is not an option. This isn't all sweetness and light. But back to where this rant started, most of my stuff doesn't need to be in particular folders. I just need to be able to find it. Right-clicking that Word document and choosing Options allows me to choose Categories for the document, in this case Business, Pleasure and FrnRrp. The latter is a custom Category and no, I'm not letting on what it means. So there! Now I can use the Outlook Filter and Find to hone in on what I am looking for.

Now don't get me wrong. NTFS is an amazing filesystem. Better than EX2, much better than HPFS and light years ahead of FAT. The question in my mind is, if these things I mention are possible in Outlook, then they are possible in the wider OS. And if Outlook contacts was a relational database...

Needless to say, playing with Mandrake was also a trigger for these thoughts. It's really just Unix tarted up to imitate f@#$&ing Windows. Sort of. Whoever said Microsoft doesn't innovate has never used Outlook. I just wish to hell the Outlook programmers would hurry up getting to wherever it is they are going. In a world where the users' needs, as distinct from the programmers' needs, were paramount, Outlook would be the OS. For some of my clients it already is!

Thought for the day:

No one asks you to throw Mozart out of the window. Keep Mozart. Cherish him. Keep Moses too, and Buddha and Lao Tzu and Christ. Keep them in your heart. But make room for the others, the coming ones, the ones who are already scratching on the window-panes.

Henry Miller


Saturday 11 November 2000

Bo Leuf responds to my I hate filesystems rant!

Seem to recall you being here before...

> I hate computer file systems!

To a large extent, I agree with you. This is one of the reasons I got taken by Wiki, because this concept hides the filesystem details and lets the author work entirely in the associative title domain. It's kind of funny, because one of the things I note in the book is how people who are used to Wiki start writing and talking in "WikiWord" terms. The implication is that a WikiWordTerm is a SpecialConcept, likely to be found as a page with that title (or something similar) on some wiki system -- or if not, it soon will be. For some the ideal is peer-to-peer FederatedWiki, where search and linkages don't care which system the pages are on, and so neither will the author, who merely forms a WikiWordTerm to link to the content of choice.

> Why isn't there an "include in these places" command in the save > dialog?

Why should one even have to "save to a location" in that explicit way except in special cases? Most cases I wouldn't care as long as I can find the material. Outlook abstracts this, but in an odd and risky way, by retaining the folder/file metaphor yet making items impossible to locate except through the Outlook dialogs. Everything is in these humongeous pst files, fragmented 8 ways to Xmas, and just waiting for that little corruption to kill the whole store. Not to mention the proprietary format. As a rule, you won't want to include for example many Word documents in a pst for space reasons. Linking to documents elsewhere in the filesystem is better, possibly with an abstract in the Outlook item to aid search.

> Why do computers insist on imitating paper filing systems?

There's this pervasive illusion since Aristotle (roughly) that a hierarchical structure is the definitive way of locating information. For the most part, it turns out to be a good way of losing it too, since there's precious little associative freedom laterally. You have to wonder what the state of humanity would be had our brains been hardcoded for A-Z-organized hierachical storage. Probably at the flatworm stage...

All the best

/ Bo -- Bo Leuf Leuf Consultancy LeufCom -- http://www.leuf.com/

I can't recall ranting in my Daynotes about this before, though it has been a perennial chestnut with me for over a decade that computer systems are designed for programmers, not for end users. Why should one have to save to a particular location, indeed? I think this was one of my points. I think that should be an option and another option to include pointers/shortcuts of some sort at the same time. My example of  Outlook was rather meant to be illustrative at this point in time. Defragging a PST is a pain. That's fixable. Currently my outlook.pst is at 250 MB and it is often larger. A single large file is vulnerable to corruption, but then so is the MFT. I have yet to experience a corrupted PST.

I went exploring Wiki and found lots of interesting stuff! So much so that even though I am still unsure of what Wiki actually is, I know its implementations are fun!

When I started to use my computer effectively, about ten years or so ago, I looked at various options for improving my ability to find my stuff. I tried various database solutions that all had problems of one sort or another: AskSam, TurboNotes, ZoomRacks etc. Most of them are a bad fit for writers and ordinary databases are completely useless. One solution I tried that had promise was ISYS and I am about to try it again. 

ISYS creates an index of the significant words in almost all your documents including ZIP files and provides a search engine that allows Boolean and proximity search operators. When I first tried it, the commitment of hard disk space to the index was a problem. These days, disk space is much cheaper, so that shouldn't be an issue. Nor was the software inexpensive. When it came time to upgrade, to cope with new file formats, I decided not to. In the meantime, the number of files on my system has grown and I have gigabytes of under-utilised disk space.

A concern to me when I downloaded the demo was the apparent absence of purchasing information! So many websites are like this. I also went to the only Adobe approved site for FrameMaker in Australia. Adobe won't sell me FrameMaker or PageMaker because I am not in the US or Canada. After being asked several times "Do you want to install the Shockwave plug in?" and declining, I was presented with a textual description of how wonderful the company was and a list of its huge clients with descriptions of how wonderful they think FrameMaker is. I don't think I will be shopping there. One wonders if they are capable of asking themselves the question, "would I like to be kept waiting for five minutes before being able to even begin to search for the information I want?"

Thought for the day:

Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it and, above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light.

Joseph Pulitzer


Sunday 12 November 2000

Peter McLaughlin writes:

Thankyou for your reference to the ISYS software it seems to be something near what my users want to use for searching a lot of documentation and procedures. Though the Web site is most irritating in not giving the prices.

The reason I want to use this type of software is that onboard (I work on a semi submersible drilling rig in the North sea) is that we have a lot of procedures and documents on our computer network onboard which need to be referred to by various users of differing capabilities in navigating a file system.

To get round this I have made a web page with hyperlinks to the relevant docs, which are in word, which has worked quite well so long as you know what you are looking for.

The request from the users now is that I give them the capability to search both the web page and the word docs for particular instances of words, and give them a list to choose from (Ctrl+F will not do). Having had a look at the demo version of ISYS it looks like this may do it though the next challenge will be to make it user friendly, any tips in that direction will be gratefully received.

Having only discovered your column in the last month I would like to congratulate you on your informative and readable style which I very much enjoy. I will certainly make Tasmania a port of call on my trip to NZ &Aus in February.

Regards

Peter McLaughlin

If all you want to search on are MS Word and other Office docs, then you might be better served with MS IIS. This will index the docs and allows the creation of an HTML front end that is as user friendly as you want to make it. Presumably this could be a "Dashboard" in Outlook, not just IE.

The big advantage to ISYS is that it indexes lots of non-MS products as well if you are using them. It also used to be the fastest product of its type. The back end was programmed in Turbo Pascal and the front end in Visual Basic. I don't know if this means that you could customise or write your own VB, or even if the product is still structured this way. I'm busy playing with Mandrake and FrameMaker at the moment.

Actually, that's tomorrow. I'm about to have a nap, then I'm going to a musical performance in the afternoon. A perfect end to the week.

Thought for the day:

The question is not what you look at but what you see.

Henry David Thoreau


 

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Jonathan Sturm 2000

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Jonathan Sturm 2000