Ionic Column: Jan. 1997
by David Parry
The last column was held over for a month, since I was modemless for a time. The AJ had gone to press by the time the next Ionic was ready, so this column will reach you at about the same time as the o-sechi ryori. Tepid and tasteless, a dispiriting collection of moribund objects to greet you at the coldest time of the year. And the o-sechi ryori isn't much better, either.
In the last column I puzzled over the reason for the problems with software installations from CD-ROM. Programs crashed with greater rapidity and regularity than Luftwaffe Starfighters. Despite nuking everything within Windows, including the screen saver, Windows still crashed.
The cacheless society
The solution turned out to be very simple. Everything worked just fine once I joined the cacheless society. The cache with Netroom is generally trouble-free, but it does not work with a number of programs that are distributed on CD-ROM. This explains why I could install FrameMaker over a Novell network, since that uses its own caching, and the program files had already been installed on the server. Disabling the cache or the CD-ROM caching option let the installation proceed without a hitch, albeit slowly. I did not have the problem with World Atlas, which is little more than a small disk-based program that searches out the data on the CD-ROM, or clipart compendia. Compton's Encyclopedia is probably similar, but I have not installed it, because I am running short of disk space on my 1 GB drive!
The cache problem is worth remembering if you have problems installing a program off CD-ROM. To recap, I had the problem with Corel Flow and FrameMaker. I cannot recall if Visio installed OK, but I think I played safe and turned the cache off.
As for the leftover OS/2 files I mentioned last time, I eliminated those by initiating global thermonuclear war, otherwise known as a low-level format of the hard disk. I backed everything up, wishing I had a Jaz drive to squirrel away my data, took a deep breath and low-level formatted and repartitioned the disk by using Partition Magic. Then I put everything back from the second hard disk and went through the lengthy process of reinstalling Windows and all the programs.
This cleaned out barnacle-like accretions of orphaned files and obsolete references in the INI files, which even Microhelp Uninstaller had not found. At the same, the Windows help file reader came back, evidently having been zapped some time ago. The net result was that Windows ran without problems and was noticeably quicker to load. I noticed a slight slowdown after installing Norton Desktop for Windows, but I regard that as an absolute necessity. I got a bigger slowdown after loading the CAPI drivers for my ISDN line, but more on that next time.
To conclude the Photokina report, I was intrigued to notice the James Bond-like hardware emanating from the former Soviet Union. Remember the copies of old Hasselblad and Zeiss cameras under the "Kiev" tradename? They were on show under the more martial appellation of "Kiev Arsenal", along with other apparatus that can broadly be called optical. Telescopic sights and sniperscopes of all kinds, spotting telescopes (the sort used on the rifle range to see how much you missed the target by...), binoculars and stabilized binoculars / stabiliscopes, the sort of thing "for use on helicopters or boats."
In an even more militant vein, they also had laser pointers and designators, including the little battery-sized things that fit under the barrel of a gun to illuminate your target in a Rambo-like sort of way. Given the warlike name, I suspect that the Kiev Arsenal also provided the pistols and sporting guns on display. No doubt the long-suffering booth reps get asked all the time about a well-known Russian firearm, so I forebore from asking the going price for an assault rifle numbered between 46 and 75.
Kiev Arsenal was also exhibiting night sights, or image intensifiers, which are essentially a high-sensitivity video camera. Many of the models on display there and from other makers in the CIS looked like overgrown binoculars, providing a magnification of 2x to 4x. This kind of equipment was originally designed for military uses, naturally, superseding the first generation of night vision equipment that used infrared lights and viewers. They were bulky and ineffective, and of course had only the range of the infrared beam projected by the light. Image intensifiers are limited only by the amount of natural light available, which is to say that they do not work in total darkness.
I later found the Swarovski booth and read through their blurb. Swarovski is an Austrian maker of optical equipment, including binoculars, and I had noted that they had some very interesting and innovative design features. Their night sight was a compact device that you could easily hold in one hand, looking and feeling like a small camcorder. It does not magnify, on the grounds that you do not need for most non-military purposes. They pointed out that the market for night sights has opened up dramatically since the CIS vendors came onto the market at dumping prices, but for typical civilian applications such as boating you do not need any magnification at all.
Swarovski also commented on why it is that there is such a huge price and quality differential. Their product, and those from American companies such as ITT, automatically compensate for shifts in brightness and cope better with problems such as a bright light within the field of view. The problem is one familiar to photographers and DTP workers alike; retaining detail in the shadows with a contrasty subject. They also pointed out that detecting an object in the field of view also depends on how well it stands out against the background. This again depends on sophisticated electronics.
They admitted that under certain lighting conditions, such as bright moonlight under an overcast sky, any such device will be virtually useless. Since I have no experience of using such equipment, I cannot do more than quote their leaflet.
Kiev Arsenal were not the only manufacturers of these night sights. A booth next to mine featured a joint venture between a Russian company and one in New York for broadly similar equipment. The Swarovski leaflet had mentioned a company called White Nights, and they too had a small booth, manned by a couple of Slavs who probably worked for Intourist in days of yore. Intourist? Yes, the nice people I remembered so well from my time in the Soviet Union in 1974. I gently enquired where the company was based; they were at least prepared to tell me that the goodies came from Kazan. When I asked for product leaflets, including some in Russian if possible, they changed to the typical Intourist vein and refused. Perhaps I should have said that I was a dealer.
White nights? A great pun, especially for the literati. It refers to the long summer days in northern Russia, the midnight sun if you wish. It is also the title of an early work by Dostoevsky. Even the Soviet military enjoys puns and classic literature. Perhaps they ought to market their firearms under another Dostoevskian title? I am, of course thinking of "House of the Dead."
Back in the office, I caught up on my e-mail and got one of the not-infrequent "take a look at this Web site" messages. This usually involves cyber-porn of varying degrees of hardness, so to speak. My general feeling is that I see little point in wasting several minutes waiting for a picture to appear, and I get really riled when I have to wait several minutes to see enough of a graphic to be able to tell who or what is coming (no, certainly not me, but I digress). Even with ISDN, Web pages can take aeons to appear, since the Web server can be trying to service several clients simultaneously, and the myriad routes from the server to my PC add more overhead.
And talking of servicing clients, one of these e-mail teasers led to a Web site that took about ten minutes to download a pic of three young ladies apparently trying to touch tongues. Underneath was a text promising details of all the legal brothels in the USA, all 1,600 or so of them. I appreciate that old Japan hands need no such introduction, what with the joys of soap on every corner and salons of a pallid red hue, but homesick Jonathans might be glad to know where they can find instant friendship and relief. No, I did not keep the address, but anyone with an account on any on-line service will get this and other glowing offers in short order.
I had intended to say more about ISDN, but I have still not got everything sorted out. One point that irks me no end is the current trend of providing shareware and crippleware, aka "Lite" versions, of software with new hardware. My ISDN/ faxmodem from the German company ELSA came with a CD-ROM full of software to cover all their ISDN products, out of which I have:
I then tried another PC fax program, but that crashed on installation. It turned out to be shareware, and crippled at that. What is the use of a PC fax program that only allows one dialing directory and cannot use a cover sheet? In general, there appear to be no PC fax programs that support Windows 3.1 and ISDN.
US shareware authors generally ask for something between $20 to $100, but the Germans tend to start at the high end of that range.
The hard way to the hardware
It is one thing to pay for an enhanced version of a program, but to be given something that is functionally useless is quite frankly an insult. It makes me even more irked that I should have to pay extra for something as basic as a software driver. If I buy hardware, I do not expect to have to pay more, just to get it to work. To put it another way, please license the full program and adjust the sales price. I have wasted a great deal of time trying to get my system to work because of this deficient software.
This meanness and penny-pinching is in dispiriting contrast to the days when you got a fully functional communications program when you bought a faxmodem. Somewhere I have a box with several unwanted and unused copies of Crosstalk. When I bought my Intel SatisFAXtion faxmodem, I got Crosstalk and a fully functional PC fax program. When I bought a USR Sportster 14.4, I got a crippled no-name communications program and WinFax Lite. Light it certainly was, not to mention buggy. I got rid of the USR and bought an Intel S/400. My Crosstalk collection swelled, and I got an updated and fully functional version of the PC fax program. Thank you, Intel.
One problem with ISDN is that I am still using Windows 3.1, and the newer communications programs over here in Germany all use the enhanced telephony features of Windows 95. Support for Windows 3.1 is likely to dwindle before long, but Windows 95 is not stable, and the Compuserve forum was full of anguished wails about alpha drivers — or none at all — for NT 4.0.
ISDN is great when it works. File transfers are about twice as fast as with a 28.8 kbs modem, so I can download files of around a megabyte without a qualm. But modem transfers vary greatly in speed. Sadly, the connection to TPC BBS is the slowest of them all, so I have not been on the BBS lately.
The tough part is trying to get ISDN to go analog and talk to fax machines and modems. More on this in the next column.
Next month; more on ISDN; more cyber-porn ("your name was given to us as somebody who might be interested in..."); morphing and photo-editing.
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