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Ionic Column -- July 1997

David Parry

Englishman David Parry lived in Tokyo from 1980 to 1994 and was a TPC member from 1986. A frequent contributor to the AJ, he was Newsletter Publisher from late 1988 to early 1990 and began the Ionic Column in 1992. This column has won a prize and an honorable mention in newsletter awards. To the Tokyo BBS community, he now lives in virtual cyberspace and teleports textually over the ether. On the physical level, he currently lives and works in Düsseldorf, that part of Germany that most resembles Japan.

David Baffled?!

Frankly, I am baffled. Remember the SCSI-related hard disk problems I described in the last column? My PC now runs OK, but I still cannot run Netroom. MEMMAKER gives me around 600K, if I do not try to load too much, but how I miss that cloaked MSCDEX that squirreled away nearly 50K into upper memory. Some other problems described below have gone as well, but I am damned if I know why. Maybe I should take the theological approach, and take it as an article of faith that everything works now, but don't look for a logical and scientific explanation.

Lead in the air

I think I have eliminated most of the variables by now. Partition Magic? No, because I redid the entire disk. First I backed everything up onto a borrowed tape drive, took a d-e-e-p breath, FDISKed all 3.2GB of the scuz, and set up the new partitions with FDISK as well. Time to reinstall. The boot floppy succumbed to unrecoverable data errors, and a hasty search of my diskette box revealed no backup boot floppies. No problem, muttered I through gritted teeth, starting up my second PC. Nothing happened, except for a smell of burning and a slowly spreading cloud of solder vapour.

In Limbo

The "new" PC-actually a kind of Frankenstein's monster built up of disparate parts from various sources-had died before it was really born. You might say it has already found its way to Limbo, the afterlife for the unborn. What had happened? The power cable to the already very suspect floppy drive had managed to burn its way to freedom and committed a felo de se. It looks as if the damage was limited to the wiring, but I await the arrival of a replacement cable and the tense moment when I switch on again.

Getting the boot

I did finally get a boot disk together, but along the way I discovered that my DOS 6.22 disks were upgrades only and would not install from scratch. Thanks, Microsoft. In the worst case, I do have backup diskettes at home, but who knows if those diskettes were good? Once my blood pressure had dropped to below life-threatening values, I installed the backup software and had the tape backup humming along.

Ditto problems

The unit was a borrowed Iomega Ditto 800 tape drive, which caused me further consternation when I went shopping for tapes. The only tape available at the first vendor was 1.6GB (3.2GB compressed), which I bought on the spot, faute de mieux, expecting that the extra capacity would be no problem. Not so, for the lowly Ditto 800 refused to acknowledge the existence of superior hardware and did not recognize the tape at all. No question of reformatting the tape to a lower density, as you can with a 3.5" floppy; "no" means "no" in the Ditto world. Pulse racing madly again, I headed off for the shops again and found a tape that promised to be compatible but held 25% extra data. Much to my relief, both claims turned out to be true.

Lies and backup tape

All was well, except that backing up 400 KB on two partitions (drives C and D) turned out to take three times as long as the estimates shown by the tape software. The borrowed Ditto is a parallel port version, as in "unparalleled versatility", since you just connect it to the printer port. Iomega thoughtfully provides a suitable cable so that you can connect your printer as before and produce hard copy without any interruption. The first backup took half of a working day, after which I decided to do the second backup overnight. This time I deleted some relatively surplus files and set "Verification on" to be sure that I had a good backup.

Backup? What backup?

This was painfully slow compared even to the Wangtek 1 GB SCSI-I tape drive using 6250 cartridges that I had run through ArcServe off the Netware network in the previous office. On that I could back up 500 MB in about 40 minutes. Verification? The server did not have enough memory at the time, so setting "Verification on" merely caused an abend at the end of the backup, and verification remained a polite fiction. The server in question had a motherboard transplant and more memory about Christmas time, but nobody thought to check out whether the SCSI controller and tape drive worked afterwards. This became a matter of extreme interest after the IDE hard disk on the server went sick last week, the one and only hard drive.

The latter was solved just a day ago, and the reason is interesting. Firstly, the SCSI ribbon cable was reversed left to right. Secondly, the power cable to the drive was plugged in the wrong way round, which is odd in view of the fact that these cables are usually keyed to prevent such mistakes. Thirdly, the ISA Adaptec card had not been recognised by the PCI motherboard BIOS when setting up the system. NetWare had noted that something was amiss, but did not crash at once. The consultant who did the Yuletide surgery is normally pretty good, so maybe he had an off-day. To err is human, to forgive is easy enough if it isn't costly.

Start swapping

My own PC was working again, but I still could not run Netroom. My own consultant suggested swapping the SIDE controller for an OEM version of the NCR. This one has dip switches instead of the software settings of the SIDE, and was no better at coexisting with Netroom, but it did at least let me get the scanner up and running again. However, some of the bizarre problems I had encountered under Windows had gone; specifically, WinWord proclaiming that I was out of disk space when attempting to save large files, and Word for Word being very slow when presenting a list of files or directories to make selections from.

Swap stop

I wondered if the WinWord problem was related to the Windows swap file, since it only happened with very large files with embedded graphics, and after saving the files several times. I got the impression that space somewhere has been used up. But my swap file was 20MB, I had 64MB of system RAM, and it refused to save a 500 KB file to an empty 3.5" floppy. It was probably some kind of SCSI-related problem, but Lord knows what. I can only resort to the realms of theology and the esoteric. Is Baron Samedi lurking somewhere on my SCSI bus?

Partition Magic did not seem to be causing the problem, so I went back in with it to create the extra partitions I needed in addition to the two I had created under FDISK a few days before. Note that you can only have four partitions on a disk, and that you can only set up extended partitions on the first of these. In short, I set up three drives of 510 MB each for DOS/Windows 3.1, 1020 MB for my future Windows 95 partition, and more partitions of 510 MB for special versions of Windows. In each case I squeaked in under the limits for the next biggest cluster size. This can be significant; I regained about 40-50 MB out of 450 MB used when I shrank my original DOS partition down from 1 GB to 510 MB.

I will repartition the drives on the second PC, if it recovers from its heat stroke, to test System Commander and Windows 95. If all works well, I will then install System Commander on the main PC.

Falling sick

It could be argued that some these problems are due to computer viruses, but I think it is unlikely. Most of them go for the jugular and wreck the FAT on your hard disk. The problems only arose under Windows, and viruses do not differentiate. However, I did have trouble with WinWord macro viruses. In this case I did notice that something was funny, since I could not use the "Save as" function. I use this all the time, because the line counter I use only works with ASCII files, so I use "Save as" in WinWord to save the file to ASCII when counting lines of text to bill my customers. I'll comment more about that in a future article about translation-related topics.

Feeling better

I recalled the helpful folks from Leprechaun Software at CeBIT last year, who keep sending me newsletters all the way from Oztralia. I hunted down their URL and downloaded a free version on their macro virus exterminator. It worked like a charm, WinWord suddenly regained its former ability to "Save as", and I could now practice safe text. If you need to do the same, go to the Leprechaun homepage on and follow the prompts. Or e-mail

8X good, 12X bad

The CD-ROM problem got solved along the way. The Toshiba 12X whizzer was unceremoniously yanked out and replaced by a Pioneer 8X unit. I don't get the whirring and whizzing noises that reminded me simultaneously of a berserk vacuum cleaner and Dr. Who's Tardis taking off, but I do get a drive directory listing in no time at all, and quick and reliable reading of all CD-ROMs. The tardy Toshiba was tested in another PC and found to be equally incompetent, so I must have had a faulty one.

The 8X is pleasantly sprightly when searching through CD-ROMs, more than quick enough for installation work, and perfectly acceptable in general work. The 12X and faster drives do not get up to full speed immediately, and I suspect they will have mechanical problems quite quickly as they get older. I now have a couple of German dictionaries on CD-ROM. More precisely, they are on my hard disk, as the installation routine lets you choose. In that case I do not care how fast or slow my CD-ROM is.

I will commend more about translation work and dictionaries on CD-ROM in a future article, possibly next month unless something else comes up in the meantime.

Credit where credit is due:

ArcServe, Cheyenne Software

Partition Magic, PowerQuest

Netroom, Helix Software

System Commander, V Systems

Virus Buster, Leprechaun Software

Dr. Who may or may not be a registered trademark of the BBC. Rumour has it that somebody accidentally erased all the video tapes, so don't expect any reruns. Evidently the BBC is just as bad as us at backing up its data.

Comments or feedback or more information? Contact me on Compuserve on 100575,2573 (or or http//

© 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

July, 1997

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor

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