The Ionic Column - In Exile
Englishman David Parry lived in Tokyo for 14 years (too long?) from 1980 to 1994 and was a member of TPC from 1986. A frequent contributor to this publication, he was Newsletter Publisher from late 1988 to early 1990 and began the Ionic Column in 1992. For reasons best known to the readers, this column even won a prize and an honorable mention... To the Tokyo BBS community, he now lives in virtual cyberspace and teleports textually over the ether. He currently lives and works in Düsseldorf, that part of Germany that most resembles Japan.
The following occurred as a result of a chance meeting in Nepal. Even in the no-tech Third World, computers still managed to follow me. There I was up at 4,000 meters at Annapurna Base camp -- how's that for a throwaway line? T'was but a mere walk along an easy track, the last part could just as well have been England or Scotland, with the wet bog grass and rocks, and the hills hidden in the cloud. ABC isn't just a camping ground, it has three stone-built lodges.
From Chomrong to the Annapurna Sanctuary is two days for the fit and determined, or three for most people. My third day was barely four hours, so there was plenty of time to while away. We drank tea, consumed vast trenchers of dal baat (lentils & rice and curried veggies, as much as you could eat), wandered around and scanned the clouds in search of the elusive peaks.
Annapurna has consistent weather; beautifully clear and sunny in the morning, cloudy and occasional very light rain in the afternoon. At sunset the peaks appeared briefly and flirtatiously, like a fan dancer peeping coyly through her ostrich feathers. We oohed and aahed, the cameras clicked, and then we hurried back inside before we froze. More fun-filled dal baat, more tea... it was going to be a long evening.
Out came the chessboard. "I haven't played for a while", I said nervously. "I'll give you a game", said a personable type from Oregon. "I'm not that good". After a mere four moves I was in deep trouble already. No doubt he meant "not that good... compared to Kasparov". Our replay was another massacre. "What do you do?" "I work at Intel." "Intel!!?"
I had come all the way to Nepal to talk computers again? Might we get The Straight Dope. (He had some of that, too, which he smoked outside in the raw night air. He still handily won the next three games of chess.)
"Er, tell me about the Pentium", I began. "Ah yes, nice chip, but there's no software to take advantage of its special features." I gasped in disbelief. Obviously, that would be true for DOS, but what about the other OS? "Unix?" "No." A doubtful tremor in my voice. "Windows NT?" "No." Disbelief shook me. "OS/2?" "No." A strangled sob. "Chicago? Windows 95?" Choking back tears by now. "Netware?" "No, not even anything in development, either." Did this man have free run of the research labs at Intel and Microsoft? I leaned back, slightly dizzy. "So why are we buying Pentiums?"
The question hung in the air, unanswered. Flashback to Tokyo, four months before. At Ad-Ex I had advised Roger Williams on buying his next PC. The Gateway P5 with a 60 MHz Pentium, PCI bus and blazingly fast video card looked like a steal. It arrived, it was a dream -- almost. It ran warm, though not as hot as our Tangent 486/50 toaster oven. (Tangent! A vendor to avoid.) Then the next Gateway ad showed the same PC with more memory and for less money. Then out came the faster and cooler chips, at giveaway prices. The only flies in the ointment were modem problems and memory management problems; the serial I/O is nonstandard, and so is the cache in the actual CPU. QEMM and 386^Max sulked, only Memmaker worked.
Cue forward to Düsseldorf in November. I need a new PC. Pentiums cost perhaps 500 DM (US$300) more than 486s. Mindful of the words of the demon chess player, I buy a secondhand 486/66. The original version of the above was posted on two BBS in Tokyo. The Gateway problems may have been solved by now, and to some extent may have applied to the 60 MHz chip, which has been superseded by the P90 and the P100.
Someone commented that the GNU shareware C compiler supported a number of Pentium functions for extra speed; however, the issue is when a major vendor such as Microsoft has such a product, and when actual software on the market uses those compilers. Not only must the products be recompiled, but it is also necessary to incorporate a routine to sense whether or not the chip can take advantage of the extra features, assuming that it is necessary to do so.
The second part of this column concerns a previous discussion on the Tokyo BBS and elsewhere with regard to problems when using SHARE on my PC.
The system: A Polywell 386/33 DX, Adaptec 1540 controller, Maxtor 540 MB SCSI HDD, DOS 5.0, 386^Max 6.3 (final update before version 7), Windows with the WIN311.ZIP upgrade, and Intel S/400 fax modem. The Adaptec ASPI drivers were loaded, in case you wondered. The Polywell had worked flawlessly with an internal ESDI HDD until the latter died in the aftermath of a lightning strike one day; about a month later there was a blue flash, a pop, and a smell of burning. I had to get an HDD quick, and it happened to be an external model. The problem: If I loaded SHARE, the S/400 would store the outgoing fax messages but would refuse to send them until I rebooted. The modem was not affected.
If I did not load SHARE, Windows multi-tasking was potentially dangerous, although I never actually lost data. More importantly, Word for Windows 6.0 became cranky and unworkable, beeping on every keystroke and flashing a message that I had to have SHARE loaded. This was extremely angst-provoking, as a number of customers from Germany wanted text in Word for Windows 2.0 or 6.0 format. File converters? One massive translation job I got in was heavily formatted and included scanned graphics, so I had to copy and overwrite the original file in English.
The only way I could get this done was to borrow a PC with WfW 2.0 on it -- big thanks to Roger Williams at Ad-Ex for helping out. I sold the PC when I left, and when I arrived in Germany I bought a generic 486/66 with a 420 MB IDE HDD. That and my Polywell both have an AMI BIOS. Word for Windows added the line for SHARE during installation, and worked fine. The Intel S/400 also works fine. Since I can expect to be using WfW extensively, that is a major relief. The system seems very stable overall. It looks as if SCSI caused the problems I had in Tokyo.
I still had the same problem when I set up the Adaptec and the external HDD together with the Intel S/400 on my 486/66. There seems to be some kind of problem with the S/400 and SCSI that becomes noticeable when SHARE is loaded. For the moment I have sidestepped the issue, not solved it. IDE is fine, it now handles disks of up to 1 gigabyte and CD-ROMs. SCSI takes longer to boot up while it searches for all attached devices, and the special drivers nibble away at your free memory, but it is the only way to go with very large disks. Most CD-ROMs and DAT drives are SCSI, so are many tape drives -- and tape drives that use the floppy controller are much slower.
Next: the joys and sorrows of Euro-computing.
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