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Ionic Column -- December 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.

Forward planning

It's a good idea to think ahead, as I say every year when I contemplate sending lots of Christmas cards to Japan at the lowest possible rate. Last year I got the cards out by the end of October, so I could send them surface mail at a big saving. But some must have gone SAL (Surface Air Lifted), because I got slightly puzzled comments from some people about getting their very first Christmas card of the season from me. In mid-November.

And it's not as if I could forget that the Yuletide is on the way. While in Japan I had thought that the festive season was being milked for all it was worth, partly by extending it into late November, but the pious Germans have been stringing up Christmas lights on the trees and lining the main shopping street with the gaily-painted wooden sheds used by vendors of everything from mulled wine to gaudy jewelry to music CDs. This being so, I have not forgotten that I ought to write a summary of the year that is almost gone.


There is a lot not to summarize. The CeBIT that I did not go to, the ISDN installation that is still not complete, the copy of Windows 95 that I have still not installed, and the final rebuilding of the PC systems. The last two are intimately related, of course. I need a guinea pig PC to test System Commander and Windows 95 before I let it get near my main PC. I hope to have a couple of days at the end of the year, and then I can complete the work started very recently when I bought a new motherboard and hard disk.

It may be a repeat of my comments last year, but I think it is significant that more and more people have bought PCs and also get on-line. Friends of mine from all over the world suddenly come into contact, so we now swap messages with regularity. I notice that e-mail gets answered fast, whether to me or from me, whereas I still have a folder of unanswered snail-mail from last Christmas. No doubt a few more new e-mail addresses will appear on the next cards from old friends.

The speed-up

The online services are essential for work, and in many ways they help. It used to be that I would send either a fax or a paper printout of a file. Then a number of clients acquired modems, and some of them even learnt how to use them. The increasing use of text files as opposed to paper meant that I could send a file on diskette if all else failed-and occasionally it still does.

A number of things can and do go wrong with direct modem links to another PC, including programs that cannot handle downloads or uploads where a file is sent twice for some reason. The smart solution; rename the second version of the file as .001 or something similar. The totally dumb non-solution; the program spots that a file of the same name already exists, lets you make the entire upload, and then consigns it to the bit bucket without telling you. It's the kind of thing that really makes your day. Using the on-line services avoids that sort of problem.

Shotgun marriage?

Very recently Compuserve was bought out by AOL (America OnLine). I don't know if this will make much difference to me, but I do hope they don't try a shotgun marriage. The technical forums in Compuserve are the best and most comprehensive of any of the on-line services, to my knowledge, and I hope that they will be retained. One nice thing about Compuserve is that an internal modification was made recently to encode and decode binary files "on the fly" and within the system instead of requiring the user to do it. I had found that a few people had trouble reading MIME/UUE-encoded files that I had sent to them, and it appears that this standard is not always completely uniform.


AOL is pushing hard for market share in Germany, competing with Telekom's own on-line service, T-Online. Despite the fact that Telekom owns the lines, access to T-Online is not that good, and I was astounded to see how slowly the interface software runs. The point about this service that comes to my attention, very forcibly, is that I have more problems with T-Online with unreadable files for various reasons associated to MIME/UUE coding or with files that take hours to be delivered-if at all. So much for the Databahn, German-style.

Phoning around

The good news is that Telekom loses its monopoly of the telephone system next year. I am hoping for cheaper phone rates and a alternative to Telekom. The Germans affectionately call this grudging behemoth Teuerkom; "teuer" means "dear"-as in "expensive," not "beloved," and the name fits their billing.

Long-distance phone calls may become much cheaper as a result of Internet telephony, especially if the process can be made to be almost as simple as using a regular telephone. E-mail makes it so much easier to be in touch with people, but there is still a lot to be said for actually talking to somebody from time to time.

The great dictator

A final point of voice and computers concerns voice recognition and sound files. I had been very interested in setting up a voice recognition system so that I could dictate translations into my PC without being hampered by my slow and none too accurate typing. One of the reasons I bought OS/2 was to use such a system. But the time I spent on OS/2 last November was totally wasted, and I ended up selling everything I had for a song, including update disks, utilities and the OS/2 version of my communications program, HyperAccess. At the system level, my PC system is still essentially the same as it was five years ago.

Next month I may have more comments on this topic, as I am looking into getting a kind of "computer Dictaphone" to enable me to dictate translations and pass them on to a transcriber who is physically distant. This may be used alongside voice recognition; I feel that both systems have advantages for my kind of work. Not least because my transcriber often spots errors and omission in my text and supplies helpful comments or alternative translations.

Translation aids

In the same way, I also need to get the "translation aid" system supplied by a major customer up and running. It is not a full-blown translation program, but should enable me to produce output text with better consistency and at greater speed. Long translations invariably involve repeated checking and editing to make sure that the same term throughout is used for its German equivalent. I approve of anything that saves time and effort.

That is all for 1997.

I wish all my readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. And may your computers work the way they are supposed to.

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

© 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

December, 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