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IONIC COLUMN

David Parry


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.

Computing in exile

PC users in Japan fell into a number of categories:

  • The NEC 9801 "I've gone native" crowd;
  • The DOS/V "cross cultural computing" faction;
  • The true blue US IBM "computing in exile" die-hards.
Mac users came into the latter two categories, depending on whether they had bought a US or local model. And to judge from an anguished wail on the TPC BBS, Apple Japan is just as localized as IBM. Translation: we offer a Japanese version of our product, and we are more than a little schizophrenic about that 1 ppm of users who import our original product from its native heath in the USA.

It is a mixed blessing to have a local office or agent for whatever software or hardware you bought. The office is close at hand if you have any problems, but in many cases the official policy just creates problems for expatriates. Service warranties may or may not be honored for products bought in the USA, for example.

A reverse problem applies to Japanese-made products bought in the USA. Toshiba and NEC, to name but two, sell export products that differ from the domestic offerings. Trying to get service in Japan for an export product can be an endless Catch-22 situation as you get bounced back and forth between the various offices. Back here in Japan, their support staff give you "we actually make THIS?" looks and hope you will just go away.

The wail on the BBS (e-wail?) about Apple Japan's unwillingness to supply an English-language operating system and documentation for a Japanese-type system provoked a number of responses, many of them not altogether sympathetic. Mine, for one, was not. Although I have a similar situation here in Germany, if a maker should choose to supply materials in another language, I regard it as exceptional fortune rather than an inalienable right. In a way I am biased, having also seen the software business from the vendor's point of view, and even though it is a nuisance. But the vendors have their own policies, and it just seems to be a question of getting around them.

One example: my trusty LaserJet 4 was bought in Germany and comes with a manual to match. I can read German -- heck, I do that all day as part of my work as a translator, but I would much prefer to be technically mystified in my native language. HP is usually a very helpful company, and in this case I was referred to their Stuttgart office, which promptly despatched a manual against a request for (a fairly small) payment. Alas, I had inadvertently quoted the wrong model number, perhaps after quaffing too deeply of the local Altbier, and I now have to send it back and try again. But HP has been helpful in this respect.

Perhaps living in Japan makes it easier to accept the inevitable "gee, we'd like to help you but you want the office in ...." runaround. Patience and good humor help. Having been at the receiving end of some very aggrieved technical support calls, I know how they feel.

HP and Microsoft have a national policy, which means that vendors may not sell their products outside their own country. I bought a LaserJet in Germany, so I get the panel legends and the manual in German. The actual panel dialogs are multi-lingual. I knew that my options were as follows:

1) Buy it in Germany and get the English-language materials later. This avoids any problems with warranties not being honored because of cross-border trading.

2) Go over to the UK and haul one back. I don't have a car, and there is still that question of the warranty. One option, which might not apply to a big multi-national such as HP, is to take a one-hour train ride to Venlo or Arnheim and shop in Holland. Smaller companies won't bother to translate their software and manuals, and many Dutch know English, so I can get the original. But HP and Microsoft are big.

3) Buy in the USA from a vendor who will ship anything as long as you pay. I finally got a copy of Microsoft Access, on the second attempt, after explaining why somebody resident in Germany wanted the English-language version. Another vendor cheerfully offered HP scanners in response to my inquiry. The main deterrent in the end is the extra cost of shipping and problems with fragile items.

One odd problem emerged after I installed the standard LaserJet (PCL5) printer drivers for Windows. Now I know the German terms for "Manual Feed" and "Paper Cassette", since those pop up if I select the standard LaserJet in Control Panel. Would anyone care to send me copies of the normal English-language drivers? But it is not that important, since I installed the PostScript SIMM and use the PostScript drivers which are in English only.

The new generation of printers with RISC processors for PostScript make a huge difference in speed. Around 1988 Federico Sancho published the TPC newsletter on an Apple LaserWriter and spoke of waiting twenty minutes after hitting the 'Print' key. The LaserJet or the Qume 860 I used last year are as fast at the LaserMaster add-on controller that I used to use with my LaserJet III, and more versatile. Also, PostScript can be printed over a LAN, whereas the LaserMaster required a special cable from the PC direct to the printer.

Two final comments on Windows after I ran into a number of 'gotchas' recently. Both relate to the fact that Windows does things all its own way, but not necessarily correctly or consistently.

Ignoring the fact that different programs seem to refer to the various paper trays on the LaserJet 4 in different ways, the problem primarily comes if you want to use manual feed. After selecting "Print" you can select "Options" and choose a different tray. This does not work with all programs, and is especially unpredictable if you want to print more than one page of a multi-page document. This happens if either I am printing mailing labels or if I recycle paper printed on one side. In my experience, neither will print satisfactorily in the tray of the LaserJet 4, but tend to jam. Manual feed is OK for both, however.

But some programs either ignore what you have set, or the pages after the first revert to the default tray instead of manual feed. Ventura would do as it was told, but Microsoft Word 6.0 was extremely intractable. Even changing the settings in Control Panel did not work. I had to select "Page Setup" and go to the "Paper Source" sub-menu, which presents two selection boxes, one for the first page, and one for the subsequent page. If you have this problem, check the "Printer Setup" or "Page Setup" menus of your program.

The other problem concerned serial ports. I was unable to complete the on-line signup for CompuServe because the modem would not initialize, or would not stay connected when I used the WinCim software provided. WinCim has a routine to automatically search for the correct serial port, and it indicated I should use COM3. I tried logging in with HyperAccess, a DOS-based communications program. I could log on, but the screen was garbled and I was unable to answer the prompts correctly. What could be wrong?

I checked again. Mouse on COM1, modem on COM4. Since the ports are paired as COM1/COM3 and COM2/COM4 because they use the same interrupts, it looked as if I had them properly separated. Or had I? The fax software for my Intel S/400 swore blind that I was using COM4, interrupt 3. And while I could run DOS HyperAccess, even from within Windows, I could not run the Windows version of HyperAccess when I installed it. The problem had to be in Windows then.

Interrupts? I looked again at the settings in my communications software and noted that I was using address 2Eh and interrupt 3 in my DOS programs. Then I looked in the Control Panel again in the "Ports" section, "Advanced Settings". Bingo! A choice of interrupts and addresses, with "Default" also included. Some quick changes; "Default" did not work, but manually entering the values for COM4 now did the trick.

One problem is that I do not have a hardware diagnostics program that works within Windows. Maybe I should get one, but all the programs I have are DOS-only. There was a Windows version of System Sleuth, but Dariana has either moved away without notifying the mailman or has gone into the bit bucket.

In the next column: a report from the CEBIT Computer Show in Hanover.


© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

April, 1995

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor


Tokyo PC Users Group, Post Office Box 103, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150-8691, JAPAN